Discover Nikkei Logo

Mystery Album - Part 1

Album cover circa '40s

How this ‘mystery album’ fell onto my lap is, in Japanese, fushigi or in English, ‘surreal.’ To top it off, this album belonged to a young lady in Greenwood, my former hometown!

My cousin Yvonne phoned me to say that she received this photo album from her former colleague at Capilano University. They were both art instructors. The lady’s partner who was also an artist, passed away and she was cleaning out his accumulated collection. The partner apparently collected old photo albums. He may have bought this album since it had a sticker marked $35. Was it at a flea market? One thing led to another and it was passed on to Yvonne, then to me.

I scanned through the album and I couldn’t identify many of them, and especially the owner of the album, Miyo with no last name. I recognized a couple of people in the photos because they lived in Greenwood after the war. I spotted my friend, Ken who was 11 months old in 1947. The rest were nameless faces to me. They must have moved away when I was a little child.

Again, I took on the task of being a sleuth. I forwarded a photo of the Sacred Heart School (SHS) Grade 8 Grad via email to friends and families. First, my friend Dave replied that his sister, Maryann, was in the grad photo. She was able to identify several of her classmates. That was a start. I then phoned my sister-in-law Chic to pass this album to my cousin’s wife Nan. When I got to Chic’s place (brother Kaz), she was shocked to find herself in the album when she was about 12 years old! One photo had Chic as a Maid of Honour for her sister, Yoneko’s wedding. She was able to identify her sister and relatives when they lived in Grand Forks. At Oshogatsu (New Year’s feast), Nan came and she identified her cousin, Susie, from New Denver. Finally, I recognized a lady who is my sister, Lurana’s friend, Audrey. She was a Vernon girl so no wonder the girls in the photos were unknown to me. Audrey told me all about her friends, the Takashima girls.

1948 SHS Grade 8 Grads

What a relief to put names to faces to these old photographs from 1945-1950. However, the grad photo bothered me that there was couple more Nikkei unidentified. Ah ha! I thought digging into the old SHS yearbooks might give me more leads. Finally, I found the students in the grad yearbook! It was the 1948 SHS Grade 8 graduation class. Everyone was identified. It was Miyo’s sister’s (Midori) grad photo.

SHS Yearbook grads

I must thank all those who helped to put names to faces. I said to myself, “If all the Nisei elders start leaving us, there will no one to document these photos.” I guess it’s better late than never. This album could have been thrown away, or someone else would have bought it and be lost forever. This ‘mystery album’ found provenance and closure. Was it fate?

End of the story? As I browsed through the yearbooks to see if I could find the surnames of some of the people in the album, the compositions and speeches caught my attention! I felt like a ‘fly on the wall.’ The attitude and emotions of that period revealed a more personal history of the internment.

Excerpts taken from the 1944 SHS Yearbook

To the graduating class:

Due to the present unfortunate situation you are in, an unfavourable plight. Your future will be more hopeful with the return of the day of Peace. Prepare for the problems the future has in store for you.

To the Parent Members of the P.T.A.:

Those early days were gloomy ones with much mental anguish for all of us parents. I recall the many meetings held. The government was petitioned several times in this regard. But, because of the insurmountable obstacles beyond our control. All of our efforts ended without success. We parents had to give up hope. At this crucial moment, the Society of the Atonement after incalculable effort found a way to establish for us, not only what is known as SHS, but a kindergarten as well. Sisters and Friars have been self-sacrificing in their efforts for the education of our children.

— Speaker K. Shinde

Kay walking along Lover' Lane

Auld Lang Syne:

Last year we were very unfortunate in losing a number of our fine pupils. We are glad to share with our readers the latest about two of our ex-classmates: Asako Fukumura likes her job as a dentist’s assistant. Commercial classes  at SHS came in handy. Kay Shiozaki is continuing her academic course at Harbord Collegiate, Toronto, Ontario. She finds school harder than in B.C. Japanese boys and girls in Toronto, she writes, are very frank and forward.

SHS Editors:

Thank you to P.T.A. chairmen Mr. Kariya, Takeuchi, Shinde and Nishi for their work. Also, Mr. B. Nakatsu kept a vigilant eye on the playgrounds and for other improvements. To mothers and daughters for keeping the classes neat and clean. To the janitors, so solicitous for our comfort when the polar breezes dipped the thermometer so low, and saw that our wood stoves were lighted early in the morning. Finally, to Mr. Matsubara, ever ready and willing to assist and repair, in and out of season.

The Evacuees’ Home in Greenwood:

Two years ago, Sunday, April 26th, the ‘evacuation’ to Greenwood began. The town was practically deserted except for a few carpenters who were sent there in an attempt to get the place in readiness for the new arrivals. Many buildings were badly in need of repairs. The roofs leaked. Every place was shrouded in dust, dirt, cobwebs, and the accumulation of the years since last these places were occupied.

At the coming of the first group of Japanese Canadians, one could hear the noise of hammer and saw all over the vicinity. Fire escape had to be added. The women went to work with pails, scrubbing brush and mops to clean out the rubbish and wash the windows. Cleanliness means everything to our Japanese families, therefore, baths and washrooms were among the first to be constructed. Little by little, the rubbish and fire hazards lying around on all the floors were removed. The place began to assume a more habitable appearance.

Some of the rooms assigned to families were too small, especially when there were eight children. Tables and benches were made. Woodsheds were set up outside. A large room is set apart on each floor for the community kitchen, work tables and two sinks. Some of us attempt to study here but find it too difficult to concentrate due to the distractions of passing people and playing children.

Buildings were heated by wood stove but where the room is close to the chimney, and space permits, a family is permitted to have a small stove. Two to three flush toilets were installed on each floor.

With the coming of spring, Greenwood becomes a valley of gardens. Men, women and children may be seen everywhere preparing their little plots. Greenwood is beautiful during the summer months. So, while our homes are crowded and we are living in quarters much smaller than those we formerly occupied on the coast, we are sheltered and cared for, and during the past two years many changes have been made to make us as comfortable as possible, and we realize full well that we have much cause for gratitude.

We will not forget the hardships of this exile, nor the welcome and cooperation extended to us by the mayor. The residents of Greenwood too, have done much to bring peace and contentment to our families, and together we were with friends, the Society of the Atonement. We know that, though we were homeless, we were not friendless, and only an exile knows what that means.

— Masao Nishimura, Com* III and Kathleen Okawa, Com II

Our Health Facilities:

The Greenwood hospital has 15 beds for adults, one for a child and 4 cribs. Patients are sent to Grand Forks for major operation. Isolation ward was set up in the south end of town. On the whole, Greenwood evacuees have been very well cared for in the matter of health. A census showed about 1200 Japanese Canadians, and the number of births recorded are 73, while the Angel of Death was visited a total of 12 persons.

Japanese Canadians in Greenwood:

From the first day when the evacuees took up their residences in the peaceful little town, the life of Greenwood has hummed with busy activity. More houses and stores were opened, shops were equipped and those already in business increased their stocks of merchandise, until it almost seemed as if the city were once again returning to those never-to-be-forgotten days of the boom period. Streets were filled with adults shopping, children at play, the laughter and chatter of human voices…where but a short time ago all was silent and deserted. Churches were filled on Sundays.

September, in its Labour Day celebration, brings a union of Greenwood with the surrounding districts, and the Japanese realizing the importance of the day united with the older residents of Greenwood to do their part to make the day a success. They cooperated with those in charge of the celebration to make this holiday a festive one. And, what a success it turned out to be! In addition to other features, the Japanese had a beautiful float adorned with flowers and pretty maids dressed in their colourful kimonos.

Greenwood Labour Day Parade in the mid-40's

To Mayor W.E. McArthur Sr.:

The Japanese have taken advantage of every opportunity available in which they were qualified to cooperate to carry out the wishes of the mayor and the residents of the city. And, the lifting of anxiety from many hearts, the peace and contentment that has come into troubled families is due in no small measure to the kind support of His Honor, Mayor McArthur. To him and all Greenwood’s inhabitants, we are very grateful for their Christian-like hospitality. I am sure that deep down in the hearts of each one of us in the determination to do our best to make Greenwood one of the best towns of all the Japanese evacuated centres of the provinces.

— Theresa Okawa, Com II

Quotes from students:

Greenwood has given me the opportunity of meeting and making new friends. It has manifested us to the love and cooperation of the people here around us.

— Kazuko Yaguchi

When I got off the train, I thought the city was situated in the Rocky Mountains, for all around us were grey-coloured mountains.

— Noboru Yamamoto

First of all, memories will bring back the dear SHS. This old fire hall, weather-worn and dilapidated, its wooden desks made by our own Japanese carpenters, uncomfortable wooden benches and wood stove in each room. Yet, we shall ever remember the arduous work done for us at the evening classes after a hard day’s work by the Friars and Sisters.

— Yasuko Sora, Com II

It seems for us, the younger generation that Greenwood is giving to us our start in life, and we are finding something in the present situation which is inspiring our hearts with ambition.

— Hide Isomura, Com III

I find in Greenwood a happy place…that one can give up all the good things to which one has been accustomed and still be able to lead a happy and peaceful life.

— Mary Izuka, Com II

… And here I found my greatest happiness, I became the child of God, where I was able to fulfill my brother’s wish that I become a Catholic.

— Frances Imai, Com II

Part 2 >>


* Com = Commercial Class


© 2018 Chuck Tasaka

albums British Columbia Canada Greenwood (B.C.) photograph albums photographs photography schools yearbooks
About the Author

Chuck Tasaka is the grandson of Isaburo and Yorie Tasaka. Chuck’s father was 4th in a family of 19. Chuck was born in Midway, B.C., and grew up in Greenwood, B.C. until he graduated from high school. Chuck attended University of B.C. and graduated in 1968. After retirement in 2002, he became interested in Nikkei history. (Profile photo courtesy of Nelson photographer)

Updated October 2015

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Episode 16
June 25 (US) | June 26 (Japan)
Featured Nima:
Stan Kirk
Guest Host:
Masumi Izumi
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!