Righting a historical wrong: Esquimalt Japanese tea house on topic at UVic’s Ideafest

Understanding the local complicity in the destruction of tea house in 1942

A dark time in history gets a new light shone on it with an upcoming event at the University of Victoria’s week-long Ideafest.

On March 9 at 10 a.m., ‘Righting a historical wrong: Complicity and reparation in the case of the Esquimalt Japanese tea garden,’ takes an in-depth look into the destruction of the tea house and the complicity of everyday Canadians with presentations from researchers from the Landscapes of Injustice project.

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Jordan Stanger-Ross, project director and associate professor for the Department of History says that while this incident is well known the public is still missing vital pieces of the story.

“I think people know that Japanese Canadians were uprooted and interned during the 1940s, they know less about the destruction and loss of property that happened … and they know even less about the extent of local responsibility for that,” says Stanger-Ross.

Hayato Takata and Yoshitaro Kishida established the tea house and garden in 1907. Two Takata brothers started to run the garden as a family business in 1922 and when the family was interned in 1942 the property was vandalized and destroyed, with the rest of their belongings sold off by the government.

“Neighbours broke into, pillaged and destroyed property of Japanese Canadians, so much of it was lost without any form of accounting for it that local police along with federal authorities declined to pursue the issue of these criminal actions,” says Stanger-Ross.

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Stanger-Ross says despite the formal apology offered by the Canadian Government in 1988 there’s a much wider public responsibility for the losses the Japanese community has suffered than has been widely understood or acknowledged.

The Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNSC) launched a campaign to restore the tea-house in Gorge Park last August with deliberations still taking place.

Tsugio Kurushima, president of the VNSC, sees this event and the restoration campaign as reconciliation at the local level.

“We’re basically asking to right a wrong that was done in Esquimalt,” says Kurushima.

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The event will outline various documents outlining the history and situating it within the context of 1940s.

“We’ll be talking about documents that describe the extent of the damage done by local residents in a scramble just destroying and stealing what was seen as valuable,” says Stanger-Ross. “Just wrecking it in a fashion that when federal authorities came through they were actually shocked to see the scale of destruction.”

Both Stanger-Ross and Kurushima believe this event makes a move in the right direction.

“I think if we want to be the society that many of us hope we might be we need to be open to engaging in an ongoing basis with our past and with the people and legacies of that past,” says Stanger-Ross.

For more information on the event or Ideafest visit uvic.ca/ideafest.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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