Two Japanese Canadian Toronto residents share their World War II stories. Written by Tracy Chen and originally posted November 10, 2008. Updated June 2014
Kei Yano recalls her parents’ stories about living in internment camps.
Kei Yano’s mother was born in Canada, and her father came to Canada in his late teens. Her parents met and got married on Vancouver Island, where they had three children.
During the onset of WWII, Japanese Canadians were forced to live in internment camps. “The government thought all Japanese were spies westward of the Island,” she says. At the camp, her mother became pregnant with her son, Mitzu. Because she was pregnant, she got more rations. “They were basically disposed of and forced to stay in stables,” she says. Due to the poor air quality in stables, many people became sick and developed asthma and nasal problems.
After WWII, her family moved to the east to Chatham, Ontario. Everything was taken away, except what they could carry. Afterwards the family moved to Toronto.
Yano grew up never learning Japanese. “The family was big, so we couldn’t afford Japanese lessons,” she says. One way of preserving traditional was cooking customary dishes and eating rice with their meals.
Yano currently resides in Toronto with her children, Kenji and Yomiko. Last summer, they went to Japan. To keep tradition, her children grew up taking Japanese and judo lessons.
There is a good reason why she’s lived in Toronto all of her life. “Being diverse, it’s very comfortable here. When you go somewhere else, it isn’t you really, ” she says.
Hideo Takahashi’s story
Hideo Takahashi recalls WWII from his wheelchair at Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care, a nursing home for seniors. He is animated as he recalls standing up for his culture in a time when there was heavy persecution for being Japanese.
Takahashi’s parents came from Japan. As a child, he grew up in Britannia Mines, a copper mining town in British Columbia. He was anxious about his first day at school. “I was worried because I didn’t speak English, but I realized no one did either. It was a lot of fun,” he says.
When copper became devalued, they closed the mine. His family moved to Vancouver. There he graduated from high school, where he studied French, chemistry and psychology. After high school, he took a job with the Japanese Consulate, being fluent in English and Japanese. He studied international law and the Geneva Convention.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Canadians labelled the Japanese as “enemy aliens”. The government passed an Order in Council authorizing the removal of “enemy aliens” within a 100-mile radius of the B.C. coast to internment camps.
“You do as I say or we’ll kill you,” says Takahashi about the orders he and his fellow Japanese internees faced from the guards at the prisoner-of-war camp in Petawawa, Ontario. The internment camp also included men of German and Italian descent. The Japanese internees were transferred to Angler Internment Camp 101 where the population reached 720.
It took a while before he found out WWII was over. “We didn’t know the war was over because we didn’t get newspapers,” Takahashi says. After four years, he was released. He took a job at a mushroom farm in Port Credit, Ontario. In 1984, after 35 years of service, he retired from his career with the Canadian federal government.
He is 88 and calls Toronto home.