Early days of the Japanese Immigrants in the Prairies

Today, as the second part of the series, the office would like to tell you about the Japanese and the Japanese Canadian in the Prairie between late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

The first recorded Japanese settler in Canada is Mr. Manzo Nagano, who arrived in British Colombia in 1877. He worked as a fisherman, and then a grocery store owner. There is a mountain, Mount Manzo Nagano (elevation: 1,962m), which is named after him.

After the 1900’s, anti-Asian sentiment developed, but in the Prairies, which needed workforce for agriculture, mining, etc., this kind of sentiment was said to be relatively weak. According to the 1911 National Census, the Japanese population was 9,021 in Canada. 8,587 lived in British Columbia, 247 in Alberta, 57 in Saskatchewan, and 5 in Manitoba.

1. Alberta (joined Confederation in 1905) In Alberta, 1) the Japanese immigrants who arrived in early 1900’s mainly worked in mines, railway construction sites and sugar beet industry, and some later settled in the province. Some worked as bell boys at hotels. 2) Since the summer, 1942, about 3,000 Japanese Canadians were forced to move to Alberta from British Columbia and worked at sugar beet farms. (Total number of the Japanese Canadian who were forcibly removed from their houses in British Columbia was about 21,000.) 3) After the end of World War II, the Japanese Canadians contributed a lot for the development of Albertan agriculture. But many Second and Third generations left rural areas to go to cities.

Calgary and its vicinity (Calgary and its vicinity) The first recorded Japanese settler to Alberta is Mr. Buemon Nagatani (his real name is Yoshikazu Nagatani) of Buemon Nagatani family, which made fortune through manufacture and sales of Uji tea “Uji-cha”. In 1907, he bought irrigated farmland near Calgary, which became a part of land bought and developed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Then, in 1908, Mr. Kounosuke Ohtsuki, one of Mr. Nagatani’s partners, established a farm near Cheadle, Inverlake. (Regrettably, this project ultimately failed.)

In Calgary, Mr. Sataro Kuwahara and Mr. Genzo Kitagawa opened a Japanese grocery store “Nippon Bazaar”. The store sold directly imported Japanese goods, mainly silk products and the business was successful. This store changed its name to “Nippon Silk”, “Silk-O-Lina” and in 1922, when Mr. Shigejiro Inoue joined, opened stores in Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver. (The Vancouver store closed in 1942 and the Calgary store closed in 1989.)

Silk-O-Lina Right: Former “Silk-O-Lina” in red frame
(Originally, The Calgary Milling Company’s luxury store opened in 1903.)

Farther right: Display about “Silk-O-Lina” at Fort Calgary.

Raymond and Lethbridge (Raymond and Lethbridge)
Raymond (the red pin in the map) in southern Alberta and its vicinity is another place other than Calgary and its vicinity, where the Japanese first settled. The Japanese immigrants arrived in 1904, and after the Japanese Internment in British Columbia in 1942, the Japanese community here dramatically increased.

And in Hardieville, which is now the North West part of Lethbridge, since 1909, immigrants from Okinawa prefecture settled here and worked at coal mines and railway construction sites.

In early 1940, about 550 Japanese Canadian reportedly lived in southern Alberta.
Mr. Koujun Iwaasa in Raymond and Mr. Harry Yoichi Hironaka (his son, Mr. Robert Hironaka worked hard together with other partners like Reverend Yutetsu Kawamura to open Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. He was former President of the University of Lethbridge and bestowed The Alberta Order of Excellence in 2012.) are well-known successors in agriculture.

Former Buddhist Church in Raymond (Originally built as a Mormon temple) Former Galt mine # 6 in Hardieville
Former Buddhist Church in Raymond
(Originally built as a Mormon temple)
Former Galt mine # 6 in Hardieville

Edmonton and its vicinity (Edmonton and its vicinity)
The first formally registered Japanese is Mr. Sugizo Nakamura. He owned “Sam’s Barber”. Around 1910, more than 130 Japanese Canadian lived in Edmonton and its vicinity. (The number includes seasonal workers.)

In Maybridge-Opal region (the red pin in the map) in the vicinity of Edmonton, British, Ukrainian, and Polish immigrants have settled since early 20th Century. In 1919, Mr. and Mrs. Toyomatsu Kimura, who owned a barber shop in Edmonton, moved to the region, followed by seven other families. After the demise of Mr. Toyomatsu Kimura, a shallow lake on his land was called “Kimura Lake” and it became official name in 1984.

Hamlet of Opal
Left: Hamlet of Opal

Right: Kimura Lake
Kimura Lake

After Canada amended Canadian justice laws in 1962, Alberta was thought as one of the good places for Japanese immigrants. With the supports of Japan Emigration Service (JEMIS), later Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), annually 20-50 Japanese youth immigrated there between 1969-1975. However, the number did not increase as expected.

2. Saskatchewan (joined Confederation in 1905)

Saskatchewan (joined Confederation in 1905) The first Japanese who settled in Saskatchewan is Mr. Tomekichi Nishimura in 1910 or 1911. He first came to Canada with his family in 1898, then moved to North Dakota, US and finally settled down in Antelope (the yellow pin in the map), Saskatchewan.

Mr. Genzo Kitagawa is well-known in early Japanese Canadian history in Saskatchewan. He opened “Nippon Bazaar” in Calgary with Mr. Sataro Kuwahara in 1922 and opened “Nippon Silk” store in Regina. He further opened an additional three stores there. He was bestowed The Order of Canada in 1973, which was the first case for a Japanese Canadian. He died in 1976 in Regina.

3. Manitoba (joined Confederation in 1870. Original area was much smaller than current one.)
The first Japanese immigrant in Manitoba is Mr. Terukichi Umehara. But he later left Manitoba to Ontario.

According to 1941 National Census, 42 Japanese lived in Manitoba, 21 of them in Winnipeg. It was a small community, but, respected Japanese tradition and had a strong bond. In 1942, Manitoba also accepted many Japanese Canadians who were forced to leave British Columbia. Many families settled in Red River Valley region and worked hard in sugar beet farm severe conditions.

Red River Valley region
The Red River Valley region, where the Japanese Canadians settled in after 1942 is the areas between Portage la Prairie and Selkirk, and between Altona and Steinbach 1942.

The Last, but not least, the office needs to mention that while drafting this article, it refers various materials such as ones from Japanese Canadian Associations and research results from the Japanese Association for Canadian Studies. The office expresses its gratitude to all people involved.

The website of each Japanese Canadian Association posted useful information, which includes the history of Japanese Canadian and their current activities for your reference.