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Invest to Insure Your Freedom

Invest to Insure Your Freedom

Lillian Nakamura Maguire – Nov. 23/22 – 11 pm

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In the 1930s my father worked on contract as a chick sexer for Bolivar Hatcheries in New Westminster, an area now known as Surrey in British Columbia. My parents settled into their new home and started a family with my oldest brother Sadamu “Sam” born in October 1940.  But their life was to change drastically when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and Canada declared war on Japan.  

“Invest to Insure Your Freedom” - that was the headline on the sixty dollar Victory Bond that my father purchased on February 26, 1942 from the Japan Canada Trust Saving Company in Vancouver. The bonds were used to support the Canadian war effort. This was a sizable amount of his wages – almost two weeks worth - since the average B.C. wage in 1942 was about $32 a week. Unfortunately February 26th was also the day that the Canadian government issued the notice ordering all persons of “the Japanese race” to leave the west coast.

One week later, On March 6, 1942, my father received a “Notice to Enemy Aliens” from the Federal Government. He was ordered to leave his home in New Westminster and was sent by train to a work camp at Lempriere south of Valemont in the northeast part of B.C near the Rockies. This was part of a network of road camps along the Yellowhead-Blue River Highway, whose main purpose was to build roads and bridges. He was there for about 10 weeks clearing land and constructing buildings, bridges and roads. At the time at Lempriere there was discontent among the workers especially the men who were separated from families. My father never talked about his time there but there is no doubt he was worried about my mother and brother who were left on their own in their house in New Westminster. There were strikes and unrest in other camps, and eventually the government caved to the demands and he along with many other men were allowed to reunite with their families. 

In June 1942, the government gave my parents permission to move to Winnipeg. My father worked at a hatchery with his brother who was already living there.  With the government’s permission the family moved to Regina in January 1943. My father gained employment as a chick sexer and carpenter. As fate would have it, the Federal Government gave itself the power to sell, without my parent’s consent, their home and all of their belongings at auction in BC. In 1948 they received about $1800 - far below market value - for a house that he had built which was their family home for two years. On March 31, 1949, the federal government lifted all restrictions imposed under the War Measures Act;, and Japanese Canadian people were allowed to vote and to move anywhere in Canada. 

When I learned about this family history, in the late 1980s during the Redress Movement led by the National Association of Japanese Canadians, I wondered how my parents withstood the discrimination and restrictions on their lives from 1941 to 1949.  Why didn’t they choose to take up the Canadian government’s offer to return to Japan like 4000 others did? 
At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my father told a story which gave me a hint as to why they decided to stay in Canada, and Regina in particular. He told of the kindness, support and friendship of the McCann family, who lived next door. My brother and the McCann’s son would play at each other’s houses. My parents developed a taste for homemade donuts, apple pie, poppyseed cake and Ukrainian cabbage rolls.

One family made a difference to our family. Employers provided opportunities for my father to support a family of seven children.  

My father invested in Canada in order to ensure his and his family’s security. He never got back his financial investment in that Victory bond. It took a while for that initial investment in Canada to pay off for my father in ways other than financially. His real investment was in taking a chance on a better life in Canada, which ultimately paid off for the whole family. In the short term, like many investments the yield was unsatisfactory in light of the loss of his freedom and his rights under the War Measures Act. 

I am grateful to my parents, Sadato and Aiko Nakamura for their courage and perseverance. They set the foundation for a secure, healthy and safe home life in Regina.