Ja­panese vet­er­ans re­ceive trib­ute

Men suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties af­ter fight­ing to serve Canada

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - JOHN MACKIE jmackie@post­media.com

On April 9, 1920, the Cana­dian Ja­panese As­so­ci­a­tion ded­i­cated a war me­mo­rial in Stan­ley Park to the 54 Ja­panese-cana­di­ans who died fight­ing for Canada in the First World War.

“To the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of Chopin’s fu­neral march and with a back­ground of tow­er­ing Dou­glas firs and cedars, the Ja­panese war me­mo­rial was solemnly ded­i­cated to­day in Stan­ley Park,” the Prov­ince re­ported. “The moun­tains across the in­let in all their glory, bathed in bright sunshine and ca­ressed by a gen­tle breeze, seemed to join in this last trib­ute to the Ja­panese sol­diers who will­ingly laid down their lives for their adopted coun­try and for the cause of right and jus­tice.”

Iron­i­cally, Ja­panese Cana­di­ans had to fight to join the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force over­seas.

The lo­cal Ja­panese com­mu­nity had ral­lied on Jan. 3, 1916, af­ter the fed­eral min­is­ter of mili­tia “de­cided to au­tho­rize the rais­ing of a num­ber of spe­cial reg­i­ments.”

The Van­cou­ver World noted “these will in­clude one or more In­dian bat­tal­ions, a Metis bat­tal­ion, a coloured bat­tal­ion and a nat­u­ral­ized Ja­panese-cana­dian bat­tal­ion.”

Two days later, The Sun re­ported 55 Ja­panese Cana­di­ans had passed the med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion for the army, and “it is ex­pected a full com­pany of Ja­panese may be mo­bi­lized in 30 days.”

The Ja­panese started drilling in Ja­pan­town, and on March 16, the World re­ported “1,300 Ja­panese of Cana­dian ci­ti­zen­ship” were ready to form a bat­tal­ion. It also said mil­i­tary leader Sam Hughes “has given a strong as­sur­ance that the Ja­panese bat­tal­ion will be au­tho­rized.”

But B.C. had a his­tory of anti-asian racism, and there was be­hind-the-scenes pres­sure against a Ja­panese bat­tal­ion. On May 5, 1916, the Prov­ince re­ported “the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has de­clined the of­fer of the Cana­dian Ja­panese As­so­ci­a­tion of Van­cou­ver to raise a bat­tal­ion for over­seas ser­vice.”

Maj.- Gen. John Hughes told the Prov­ince that while the com­mu­nity had been able to raise a bat­tal­ion (300 to 800 men), “the ques­tion of re­in­force­ment of men of the same na­tion­al­ity pre­sented dif­fi­cul­ties.”

The or­ga­niz­ers of the Ja­panese bat­tal­ion an­nounced they in­tended to “make rep­re­sen­ta­tion to hav­ing the men at­tached to the Bri­tish forces.” It didn’t hap­pen, but at least 222 Ja­panese Cana­di­ans wound up en­list­ing, many by join­ing up in Al­berta rather than B.C.

“The first group shipped out to Eng­land and was fight­ing on the front at the Bat­tle of the Somme in Oc­to­ber 1916,” says a his­tory of the Ja­panese me­mo­rial.

“Re­in­force­ments ar­rived in time for the bat­tles of Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Avion (Aug. 1917),

Lens (Aug. 1917), Hill 70 (Aug. 1917), Pass­chen­daele (Oct. 1917), Amiens (Aug. 1918), Ar­ras (Sept. 1918), Cam­brai (Oct. 1918), De­nain (Oct. 1918), Mons (Nov. 1918) and Va­len­ci­ennes (Nov. 1918).”

Ac­cord­ing to a story in the jour­nal Dis­cover Nikkei, 13 Ja­panese-cana­dian sol­diers re­ceived mil­i­tary medals for brav­ery in the First World War. Two- thirds of the 222 vol­un­teers were ei­ther killed (54) or wounded (92). Af­ter the war, the lo­cal Ja­panese com­mu­nity raised $15,000 for a me­mo­rial de­signed by James A. Ben­zie.

“Stand­ing on a 12-foot poly­gon base of chis­elled gran­ite, the 34foot col­umn of Hadding­ton Is­land white sand­stone, sur­mounted by an exquisitel­y ex­e­cuted mar­ble lantern, fash­ioned af­ter a Ja­panese model, pre­sented an im­pos­ing and artis­tic ap­pear­ance,” said the Prov­ince.

The me­mo­rial in­cluded the names of the sol­diers who were killed, the names of all who fought, and the bat­tles in which they took part. It was ded­i­cated on the third an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple at­tended the un­veil­ing, and many at­tended a ban­quet af­ter­wards at the Ho­tel Van­cou­ver. Swept up by the mo­ment, the pop­u­lar Capt. Ian Macken­zie gave a short speech in sup­port of giv­ing Ja­panese vet­er­ans the right to vote.

“They of­fered and gave their lives in the fight for lib­erty,” Macken­zie said in The Sun, “and they are en­ti­tled to the free­dom and en­joy­ment of the el­e­men­tary rights of demo­cratic ci­ti­zen­ship.”

The vet­er­ans were granted the right to vote in 1931, the first Asians to vote in Canada. Macken­zie went on to be­come one of B.C.’S most pow­er­ful politi­cians — he was the fed­eral min­is­ter of de­fence in the late 1930s and the min­is­ter of pen­sions and health dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

But, he changed his tune with re­gards to Ja­panese Cana­di­ans. When Ja­pan at­tacked Pearl Har­bour and Hong Kong in 1941, Macken­zie suc­cess­fully lob­bied for Ja­panese Cana­di­ans to be de­ported from the west coast, in­clud­ing vet­er­ans.

In Septem­ber 1944, he un­veiled the racist slo­gan, “Not a sin­gle Ja­panese from the Rock­ies to the Sea” at a speech in Van­cou­ver.


A me­mo­rial was erected to Ja­panese-cana­dian First World War vet­er­ans in Stan­ley Park on April 9, 1920. The 10-me­tre-high mon­u­ment is made of white sand­stone.

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