The Communities : WHERE THEY CAME FROM : Japan
Hillcrest Lumber Sahtlam Fallers, Canadian-born Japanese fallers
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Japanese immigrants began to arrive in earnest in BC in the 1890's. They came primarily for fishing, but also found work in other resource areas. In the Cowichan, in addition to fishing, Japanese worked in logging and mill positions. The official census records of 1911 count 86 Japanese residents in north and south Cowichan.
Japanese fallers were renowned at the Hillcrest Logging Company. First and second generation Japanese-Canadians gained a reputation for their skill and often worked in crews with other Japanese. The Ocean Lumber Company, owned by Japanese-Canadian K. Kagetsu, moved to Cowichan Lake in 1937, adding seven miles of industrial train track to the lake line.
Paldi's Mayo mill also hired Japanese workers. Mayo Singh had worked with three Japanese men on the mainland, who, along with their families, were among the first to move in beside the new Paldi mill. Almost 20 Japanese families lived in Paldi at the height of logging, and several more Japanese employees were set up at the Hill 60 logging operation. Mrs. Tagami was the local barber and cut hair for the Sikh, Chinese and Japanese families.
Paldi and Chemainus both built halls for their communities. In Paldi, the Japanese children were taught by Mrs. Yoshida and Mrs. Ogura in Japanese School, held after regular school in the hall. The Japanese of Chemainus called the town by its katakana name, Chimunesu. The community was awarded a prize for creating the best float in a logging industry parade in 1939. Stores and a few farms in Duncan formed the core of their small Japanese community, where high-rigger and the first enlisted Japanese-Canadian solcier Shigeo Kato lived with his wife Elizabeth before the war.
Japanese temple with Japanese community in front
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In spite of their established place in community life, the Japanese families of Hillcrest, Chemainus, Duncan and Paldi, not to mention the rest of the country, were sent to internment camps following the start of the Pacific front of the Second World War. Police and other officials arrived on doorsteps in the middle of the night and took confused people to waiting busses that carried them out of the Cowichan Valley and to mainland camps.
On March 12, 1942, the Cowichan News Leader reported that119 were from Duncan, 104 from Mayo camp and 40 from Hillcrest. Of the remaining 207, the majority were from Chemainus itself. The paper goes on to say: "A few residents there-white men and women, East Indians and Chinese- were up early to see the Japanese off. Bus company employees in charge of the transportation commented on the co-operative spirit of the Japanese." Many never returned to the Cowichan area, their properties sold, graveyards desecrated and buildings dismantled, while others moved right back after the restrictions on Japanese-Canadians living on the coast were lifted in 1949.