Tales from the Field: The Architectural Residues of Second World War Internment Landscapes in British Columbia

Desirée Valadares

The following photos and captions were produced by Desirée Valadares, who received a Hildebrand Fellowship in 2017 for research into historic preservation of WWII-internment sites in British Columbia. 

On April 1st 2017, the British Columbia Register of Historic Places recognized more than 56 sites, buildings, and landscapes as part of the Provincial Recognition Program’s Japanese-Canadian Historic Places Project. Included in the recognized places are the internment camps, self-supporting sites, and road camps, in addition to fishing, mining, and logging communities that confined Japanese-Canadians from 1942-1949. The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in British Columbia held a “75th Anniversary Internment Bus Tour” in September 2017 in an effort to draw visibility and promote the study, management, preservation, and interpretation of these sites and their associated material culture. This cultural landscape, albeit invisible to most Canadians, retains a profound materiality that has become symbolic of the ways in which moral anxieties and civic ambiguities surface in times of war. These traces provide an enduring testimony to the conditions that characterized daily life in these wartime spaces that confined “civilian enemy aliens” on the basis of their ethnic and racial identity, presumed loyalties, and alleged treason

1. Pacific National Exhibition buildings, Hastings Park, Vancouver, B.C.

Pacific National Exhibition building Pacific National Exhibition building Pacific National Exhibition building

(L) In early 1942, the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in east Vancouver were chosen to temporarily house Japanese-Canadians from coastal British Columbia until they could be placed in long-term camps in the province’s Interior.
(C) Hundreds of bunk beds for men and boys over the age of 18 filled the Forum exhibition hall. The capacity was 1212.
(R) The Livestock Building in Hastings Park was designated a heritage building in 2017, based on its significant architecture, the association with the agricultural aspects of the Pacific National Exhibition, and its role in the Japanese-Canadian detention during World War II.

2. Momiji Gardens at Hastings Park, Vancouver, B.C.

Momiji Gardens Momiji Gardens Momiji Gardens

(L): The Momiji Gardens, on the south side of the Garden Auditorium building along East Hastings Street, were completed in 1993 to commemorate the internment of 8,000 Canadians of Japanese origin.
(C): In 1984, the internment was acknowledged as a significant national event by the Parks Canada Historic Sites and Monuments Board and the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation. After much debate, a plaque was not unveiled until 1989, and, in 2012, it was moved to its current, more prominent, location.
(R): The Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque reads: “The incarceration, confiscation of property, and forced dispersal from the coast of 22,000 innocent Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1949 was officially acknowledged as unjust by Canada in 1988.

3. Tashme Museum and Internment Site, Sunshine Valley RV Campground, B.C.

Tashme Sunshine Valley Tashme Sunshine Valley Tashme Sunshine Valley

(L): Tashme camp was the last to be built and was the largest and most isolated, located 22.5 kilometres east of Hope, B.C., in the Sunshine Valley, surrounded by mountains. As a self-contained city, this camp contained a livestock farm, logging camp, 50-bed hospital, large garden, soy sauce factory, butcher, general store, powerhouse, post office, and RCMP detachment. The interior of a renovated large barn is pictured.
(C): A commemorative garden was created by residents of the Sunshine RV Campground to recognize Japanese-Canadian internment at Tashme.
(R): The camp was made of nineteen avenues of houses with 10 to 20 houses on each row and a boulevard along the south side. The street pattern remains extant, though the tar-paper shacks that once dotted this expanse have been cleared. In 2016, some residents and staff at the Tashme Museum created a reconstruction of a tar-paper shack and are seeking funds to restore the RCMP detachment.

4. Greenwood, South Central B.C.

Greenwood, BC Greenwood, BC Greenwood, BC

On April 21, 1942, Greenwood, an abandoned copper-mining town located between Penticton and Castlegar, became the first of the designated internment camps to be populated. Greenwood mayor W.T. McArthur welcomed Japanese-Canadians in his small town of 200 residents. Japanese-Canadian families moved into empty hotels, saloons, and business buildings Hildebrand Fellowship Desirée Valadares 4 with communal kitchens and shared plumbing, and were subject to a curfew. Each building was labelled with a numbering system: “Internment Bldg #1” and so on.

5. Christina Lake, South Central B.C.

Christina Lake, BC Christina Lake, BC Christina Lake, BC

Located 37 kilometres east of Grand Forks on the shores of Christina Lake, this was one of seven self-supporting sites authorized by the British Columbia Securities Commission. Families who fished and built boats were relocated here. Currently, this unincorporated recreational area in the Boundary Country of the West Kootenay region is home to summer houses and cottages that survive from the internment period.

6. Lemon Creek, Slocan Valley, B.C.

Lemon Creek, BC Lemon Creek, BC Lemon Creek, BC

Lemon Creek camp was built from scratch on a cow pasture located 9 kilometres from Slocan City. The camp got its name from the small creek that runs into the Slocan Valley. At present, there are no extant remains of the internment camp, the baseball field, or the toboggan hill, though interpretive panels erected by the local historical association are located throughout the site.

7. Popoff, Slocan Valley, B.C.

Popoff, BC Popoff, BC Popoff, BC

Popoff was another camp built on leased farmland. There are no extant remains of the street grid or shacks. Current farm owners offer tours to visitors and members of the Japanese-Canadian community on occasion.

8. Slocan City, Slocan Valley, B.C.

Slocan, BC Slocan, BC Slocan, BC

Slocan City was a mining ghost town that had 350 Canadians of Japanese ancestry living in its environs in 1942. It was also used as a train transfer point for camps located farther east. Japanese-Canadian men worked there as loggers, producing firewood, poles, posts, and logs for distant sawmills. The central image documents the extant remains of Japanese-Canadian author Joy Kogawa’s childhood home during the internment period.

9. Sandon, Kootenay Region, B.C.

Sandon, BC Sandon, BC Sandon, BC

Sandon, an abandoned silver-mining town, was located in an isolated valley east of New Denver, and can be accessed by a treacherous 14-kilometre road that often has rockslides. Situated between two mountains in a narrow, dark valley, Sandon was often known as the “Sunless City.” The majority of Japanese-Canadians relocated here were elderly. Sandon was the first camp to close in 1944.

10. Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, New Denver, B.C.

Nikkei Internment Memorial Nikkei Internment Memorial Nikkei Internment Memorial

New Denver, located at an altitude of 1,700 feet, was a commercial centre for the area in which miners lived. The British Columbia Securities Commission tasked the Japanese Canadians relocated to this site with building 275 shacks in an area known as the “Orchard.” In 1994, several survival internment shacks were moved together to form the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre run by the Kyowakai Society. The sited is listed by the Historic Sites and National Monuments Board of Canada.

11. Kaslo – the Langham Gallery and Kaslo Hotel, B.C.

Kaslo, BC Kaslo, BC Kaslo, BC

Kaslo, a once thriving mining town, housed more than 900 Japanese-Canadians during WWII. The British Columbia Securities Commission leased more than 52 buildings, which were reconditioned and renumbered to house relocated families. Currently, these extant buildings hold exhibitions on their first floors, and their exteriors are marked with plaques acknowledging Japanese-Canadian internment from 1942-1949.

12. East Lillooet, B.C.

East Lillooet, BC East Lillooet, BC East Lillooet, BC

East Lillooet was another self-supporting site (similar to Christina Lake) located east of the town of Lillooet. It contained 55 tar-paper shacks and families could stay together if they paid their own way to relocate to this site and paid monthly “rent.” A baseball team was known to have bridged the gap between the not-so-friendly town of Lillooet and the interned Japanese-Canadians in East Lillooet. There are no extant remains, though subsurface archaeological excavation might yield some findings of former habitation.

Funding Acknowledgement: Thank you to Berkeley’s Canadian Studies’ Hildebrand Fellowship, that funded this visit in 2017 in addition to subsequent research trips in Spring and Summer 2019 to archival collections in Victoria, Vancouver and Burnaby, B.C (University of Victoria Archives, Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective Archives, Simon Fraser Labor History Archives, Nikkei Museum and Cultural Centre Archives, Province of British Columbia Archives); Toronto and Ottawa, ON (Royal Ontario Museum Archives, Japanese Cultural Centre of Toronto Resource Centre, Canadian War Museum Archives, Library and Archives Canada); Montréal, QC (McGill University Special Collections) and Halifax, NS (Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21).