VI. THE JAPANESE: 1940s
The first Japanese immigrants entered the province in 1877. Like the Chinese, Japanese were primarily attracted to British Columbia rather than other regions of Canada. Not only could these adult males immediately find work in the fishing and lumber industries, they could also settle in a land where the climate and geography often evoked memories of their homeland (Krauter & Davis, 1971, p. 58).
One of the first Japanese in the Okanagan was Denbei Kobayashi. His story was told by Reverend Nakayama in 1983 in an article entitled "Japanese Canadian Poet and Farmer, Mr. Denbei Kobayashi" (Nakayama, 1983, p. 99). In 1906, Denbei found employment on a Canadian Pacific Railway work gang on the Okanagan branch line in the vicinity of Enderby and Sicamous. Around 1907, he visited a major orchard in Coldstream where approximately forty Japanese were employed. Kobayashi was hired by Eijiro Koyama, the camp boss, on March 25, 1907, at a wage rate of $1.40 for a 10-hour day (Vernon Japanese Senior Citizens' Association, 1980, p. 10). His presence had great significance for other Japanese who wanted a job at the Coldstream Ranch since he became the crew boss and acted as an intermediary with the employer. The crew of 40 to 60 Japanese increased to 100 in 1907 with the construction of an irrigation system. Around 1910, however, the number of Japanese employed at the ranch started to decline. Records in 1911 show that out of 40 workers employed, only eight were Japanese and five Chinese (Vernon Japanese Senior Citizens' Association, 1980, p. 14). Kobayashi, naturalized in 1908, moved that year to the Okanagan Valley Ranch in Okanagan Centre where the pay was $2.50 per day. In 1910, James Goldie bought the Rainbow Ranch in Okanagan Centre and in 1914 Kobayashi was awarded the labor contract to plant 800 acres of fruit trees for Goldie's land company (Vernon Japanese Senior Citizens' Association, 1980, p. 12). After being employed by the Coldstream Ranch, many Japanese families settled in the area and, in time, leased or bought some land. They became important procurers of vegetables, mostly tomatoes (Vernon Japanese Senior Citizens' Association, 1980, p. 14).
The number of Japanese residents in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the century was very small relative to the number of Chinese. The 1911 Census of Canada listed 314 Japanese in the District of Yale compared to 2,287 Chinese (Dominion Bureau of Statistics, 1913). It is unknown how many of the 314 Japanese were agricultural workers at the time of the Census.
During the first quarter of this century legislated job segregation ensured that the Japanese would be employed in certain types of labour, which included agricultural labour. Sandborn (1982, p. 5) writes that the British-Columbia government "worked assiduously at channelling Asians" out of better jobs and into less desirable jobs. The Lewieux-Hayashi Agreement in 1907 and the Gentlemen's Agreement in 1924 were measures signed by the governments of Canada and Japan, to restrict the Japanese to the occupations of farm labourers, domestic servants and contract labourers.
Also during the first quarter of this century, the contentious social issue surrounding the Japanese, as well as the Chinese, was whether or not they should be allowed to own or lease land in Canada, in particular land for agricultural purposes. The local Okanagan community stood in firm opposition to Oriental land ownership or leases as organization after organization publicly stated this position. Some fruit growers had a greater fear of Japanese than Chinese since they believed the Japanese were more likely to become a fruit producer:
The reason we ask for Chinese (pickers) and not Japanese or Hindus is because the Jap will come and work for you and me for one summer, but the next year he buys land and the next year he is a competitor. (B.C.F.G.A., 1917, p. 25).
Many Okanagan fruit growers saw that some Japanese in California had made headway as farm producers and thus they were fearful that this would also happen here. In 1918 the United Farmers Organization stated their position:
After World War I, veterans also voiced their objection to the leasing of agricultural land to the Japanese. A letter from the Vernon branch of the Great War Veterans Association was sent to the Vernon City Council protesting the municipality's renting of property to Japanese tenants. This letter was reprinted in the Vernon News as follows:
Whereas it has been brought to our notice that at the meeting of the City Council held on February 23 certain city lands were leased to Orientals; And whereas the leading public organizations of this city and district are on record as being strongly opposed to the sale or leasing of lands to Orientals; Be it resolved that this executive deeply regrets the action taken by the City Council in this direction; And be it further resolved that the City Council be requested to set a better example in these matters in future. E.B. Fleming, Secretary ("Veterans Object," 1920)
These resolutions passed by various organizations were part of a general province-wide attempt to bar Orientals from certain types of work and occupations. This resulted in many legislative attempts, such as the 1921 B.C. Oriental Orders-in-Council Validation Act , which attempted to prohibit the employment of Chinese and Japanese persons in Government contracts, leases and concessions. This act was not successful and was declared ultra vires by the courts (Ujimoto, 1985, p. 117). In addition, there were provincial attempts to amend the British North America Act in order to allow the B.C. Government to pass a law prohibiting Japanese ownership or lease of land similar to the Alien Land Law of California (Ujimoto, 1985, p. 117).
World War II Years
Within three months of Canada declaring war on Japan, after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Federal Government announced plans to remove all persons of Japanese ancestry from coastal regions of British Columbia. This "defence zone" extended inland 100 miles and during the subsequent seven months, more than 22,000 Japanese were forced to abandon their homes and move eastward under government supervision (Ward, 1981, p. 671). The majority were sent to settlements in the B.C. Interior.
The 1931 Census of Canada listed approximately 850 Japanese in the whole Census Division #3 and the 1941 Census of Canada listed a total of 1,517 persons of Asiatic descent. In 1942, about 200 Japanese canadians lived in the Vernon area. Within one year, this number went up to 500 with the evacuees from the coast (Vernon Japanese Senior Citizens' Association, 1980, p. 57). Another 500 permanent Japanese were residing in the Kelowna area before 1942, making the Okanagan Valley the area with the largest Japanese population in Canada east of Hope (Lanthier, 1985a, p. A5).
During this time the Okanagan was once again faced with a severe shortage of labour for the orchards. With the internment of Japanese Canadians to interior points, there was recognition by fruit growers that the Japanese were a potential source of labour. This, however, was initially tempered by public debate on the merit of having Japanese Canadians interned in the interior of B.C.
The January 15, 1942 Vernon News, reporting on a Vernon Board of Trade meeting, had a sub-caption entitled "Should Japanese be Brought to the Valley?" The article stated:
Should the Japanese be moved from the Coastal areas into the Interior of the province?
Another article reported that the same question was being publicly debated in Kelowna:
In various part of the Okanagan from Kelowna south considerable public discussion has been caused by reports that a large number of Japanese families might be moved from "danger zones" at the Coast to the Valley. These people would be used as a labor pool for farm and orchard work. ("Japanese Question," 1942).
Vernon City Council debated the issue and some members encouraged that the Japanese be brought in for road and agricultural projects. Other council members disagreed and expressed great opposition and fear: "'I for one am absolutely against it--in every way, shape, and form," declared Alderman C.W. Gaunt-Stevenson ("Council Debates," 1942). Subsequent to this debate the Vernon Board of Trade reiterated its position that the Japanese should be brought in for roadwork ("Board Favors," 1942). By contrast, the B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Hon. K. C. MacDonald, was given a rousing ovation in a speech to the B.C.F.G.A. convention when he stated:
I will be perfectly frank and tell you that as an individual I am not going to lend any support to the infiltration of Japanese into the Okanagan Valley. ("Minister Voices Opposition," 1942)
An editorial of the Vernon News was entitled "Japanese Situation - Fact and Rumor" and it summarized that most people in the Okanagan were against the infiltration of Japanese:
That the vast majority of Okanagan People are adamantly opposed to any mass movement of Japanese or any other enemy aliens from the Coast to the Okanagan Valley has been abundantly demonstrated during the past three weeks....
There was a sense in the Kelowna community that they were being unjustly used as the geographic location for Japanese internments and as retaliation there were hints of potential violence at these innocent victims. In February 1942, it was reported that a red line had been painted across Mission Creek Bridge and a sign erected saying no Japanese were desired south of that line. More of these signs were later posted across town. A Mission area grower who had hired two local Japanese to work in his orchard woke up one morning with a sign attached to his gate, warning him to "get rid of the Japs" (Lanthier, 1985b, p. A5). A mass meeting in Kelowna on March 5, 1942 resulted in the following resolution being passed:
Resolved that all Japanese who have infiltrated into the Okanagan Valley since December 7, 1941, be evacuated immediately. ("Okanagan's Case Against," 1942)
The Kelowna City Council threatened the B.C. Security Commission by stating their intentions to use civic powers and jurisdiction as a way of discouraging Japanese infiltration. They would not grant municipal services to persons of Japanese descent:
So aroused have the people of Kelowna become regarding the infiltration of Japanese into the district that the Kelowna City Council has taken the stand that it will deny any licences, electric light or water services to persons of Japanese origin. The Council goes further and will, if possible, deny them school privileges. ("Kelowna Takes Stand," 1942)
The United Stand
By March 9th, 1942 a meeting of local organizations in Kelowna, which included city and municipal councils, Boards of Trade, Canadian Legion branches, B.C.F.G.A. locals and vegetable growers, ended in the adoption of the following resolution:
That any further movement of Japanese into the Interior of B.C. cease unless under military guard and all those who have migrated to the Interior since December 7 be placed in internment camps under military guard. ("Mass Meeting," 1942)
These public meetings prompted a Vernon News Editorial to state:
The plain, unvarnished fact, aside from all other considerations, is that a vast majority of the thousands of residents in the Okanagan are deadly serious in their determination that the free movement of Japanese to this valley must stop. Right or wrong, this is the minimum requirement to prevent what might easily be a regrettable tragedy, a spectacle of lawlessness that should at all costs be avoided. ("Feeling's Will Rise," 1942)
>Within a week, two delegations representing Okanagan businessmen and agriculturalists were sent to the Coast for consultation on the Japanese situation. They urged restraint and cessation of further Japanese migration to the Okanagan ("Okanagan Again Urges," 1942). The second delegation received such assurances from the B.C. Security Commission as the forced evacuation procedures were put in place. Finally, by the end of March a solution was reached where the B.C. Security Commission assumed control of the evacuation permits for Japanese leaving the Coast and voluntary evacuation ceased.
Meanwhile, some Okanagan communities were thinking ahead to the end of the war. A Southern Okanagan Associated Boards of Trades meeting was reported in the Oliver News:
Permanent removal of all persons of Japanese race from Canada after the war was recommended in a resolution passed at the quarterly meeting of the Southern Okanagan Associated Boards of Trade in Osoyoos last Tuesday evening. ("Associated Boards Discuss Japs," 1942)
The call for deportation was similar to the demands of other groups in the province, such as the B.C. Canadian Legion. Sunahara (1981, p. 255) notes that deportation calls were not new and had been part of anti-Asian rhetoric since the late 1800s.
Japanese Involuntary Labour
As the anti-Japanese sentiment peaked in the early spring of 1942, the B.C.F.G.A. made only a mild request for migrant labour at its 1942 annual convention. Their resolution stated:
Whereas it is apparent there will be an acute shortage of labor for harvesting the 1942 crop, there be it resolved that the Dominion government be requested to supply alien labor, properly supervised, in such districts as request it; and that a representative of the Department of Labor be sent to the Okanagan to investigate the situation. ("Alien Labor For Valley," 1942).
The B.C.F.G.A. and various Okanagan Boards of Trade began pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary labour. A Vernon Board of Trade Committee survey of the labour problem heard many comments in favour, as well as against, with regard to re- opening negotiations for Japanese labour with the B.C. Security Commission ("Japanese Labor In Orchards," 1942).
By May, 1942, the Vernon and Coldstream locals of the B.C.F.G.A. were demanding alien labour for their districts as the harvest season approached. They cited that the opposition was lessening because the Japanese who had come into the area voluntarily were not making themselves prominent in any way ("Alien Labor in District Orchards," 1942).
An editorial in the May 21st, 1942, Vernon News, was entitled "Japanese Not Wanted But May Be Necessary" ("Japanese Not Wanted," 1942).
Public opinion was swinging toward being in favour of Japanese agricultural labour. A meeting on May 17, 1942 of the Okanagan Valley and Mainline Security Committee passed the following resolution:
That the Okanagan Valley and Mainline Security Committee approach the B.C. Security Commission immediately, by sending a representative delegation, or taking such other action as thought advisable, with the object of having made available in those districts which request it, male Japanese labor, under satisfactory military or police supervision, for the thinning and harvesting of the 1942 crop, the said labor to be taken out of the area after completion of the job. ("Food Crops Can Not," 1942)
The Vernon News reported in regard to this meeting:
All delegates at the meeting showed that they were opposed to having the Japanese brought into the valley if there was any other means of securing labor. But from the discussions it was plain that the only solution to the problem was to have the Japanese work on the farms. ("Food Crops Can Not," 1942)
This demand for labour increased further as the harvest season began. The Vernon News editorial of July 30th, 1942, was entitled "We Must Have Help to Harvest Foods" and admonished those who rejected Japanese labour and stated that community residents had a tremendous responsibility in securing adequate orchard help ("We Must Have," 1942).
Not only did the local press state their position on this issue, but also the Vancouver Sun. Earlier in the year, the newspaper discussed the shortage of labour in Okanagan orchards, as result of many Canadians who had gone to fight the war and the forecasted record apple crop:
This is the picture of things confronting our leading fruit and vegetable district. No wonder that Okanagan looked longingly towards Vancouver when the government proposed to remove several thousand male Japanese from the coastal areas. How to acquire the help of 1200 industrious laborers without establishing an Oriental colony permanently "in our midst"! This has become the question of the hour in Sunny Okanagan. ("Oppose Japanese," 1942)
By the end of August, male Japanese labour was secured for the North Okanagan, not only for the 1942 crop, but until the end of the war. On August 27, 1942, the Vernon News made a 7-column headline on its front page: "Japanese Labor Available For North Okanagan" ("Japanese Labor Available," 1942). While there were approximately 12,000 Japanese in interior housing and internment camps (Ujimoto, 1985, p. 127), likely less than one thousand were eventually used as involuntary agricultural labour in the Okanagan Valley.
The procedure to secure Japanese labour included an application to the North Okanagan Security Committee accompanied by the names and registered numbers of the Japanese proposed to be employed. Then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Provincial Police would accompany the specified Japanese males to the orchards. The North Okanagan Security Committee would assume all transportation, housing, feeding, medical, and other contingent liabilities.
By September the Vernon City Council was on side and along with the Board of Trade they endorsed a local fruit growers' petition to further increase Japanese labour. The petition read:
We, the undersigned, have no objection to growers in the surrounding district securing Japanese labor for harvesting their crops, provided these Japanese move under police escort to point of employment, and are under control of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while in this district, and are escorted by the police to their present address as soon as harvesting is completed. ("Japanese Now Working," 1942)
It was estimated that at least 250 Japanese were needed in the Vernon area alone ("Japanese Now Working," 1942). Within weeks the North Okanagan orchards were employing 200 Japanese and the number was growing steadily ("N. OK. Orchards Employ," 1942). By the end of September over 330 Japanese labourers were in the Vernon area and the growers employing these internees "seem satisfied with their help" ("Orchardists Tap Every," 1942):
They are found quiet, willing and able to work a full day. In addition, while in the majority of instances having no experience in fruit picking, they are well used to manual labor, and are quick to learn the essentials. They are, naturally, not as efficient as orchard labor to which the fruit growers have been accustomed. ("Orchardists Tap Every," 1942)
In November, 1943, the number of Japanese in the Kelowna district was officially listed as 241, with 169 having been granted temporary permits for agricultural work ("Final Figures Issued," 1943).
Towards the end of the war, removal plans were in place. The Vernon Daily News of October 4, 1945, reported:
When the removal has been completed, contact will at once be made with the B.C. Security Commission for the purpose of ensuring the implementation of their agreement to remove all Japanese brought into the district for agricultural purposes within six months after the end of the war. ("Japs Working Here," 1945).
However, by early 1946 the Vernon Board of Trade requested to the B.C. Security Commission that 250 Japanese agricultural workers be retained for a further year as there was again a fear of extreme labour shortages ("Retention of Japanese," 1946), despite the fact the war was over.
During this time period the Japanese were stripped of their civil rights. The land ownership issue re-emerged during World War II and the Japanese were prohibited from purchasing or leasing land without a permit from the Dominion Minister of Justice. This prompted municipal groups to give only qualified support to the Minister as they pressed for total exclusion of Japanese from land purchase or lease, as well as their purchase of crops ready to harvest ("Municipal Groups Demand," 1942).
There were restrictions on Japanese movement within the Vernon area as Japanese were not allowed to shop Saturday nights nor visit downtown cafes at night. All Japanese persons had to be out of the city by nightfall ("Council Vetoes Jap Shoppers," 1942).
In one incident Japanese workers were brought in to replace Doukhobor strikers. Nevertheless, the Japanese were not all docile. A sit-down strike at the Coldstream ranch resulted in them being escorted back to resettlement camps. The Vernon News reported:
Close to 60 of the 70 Japanese laborers who were brought to the Coldstream Ranch, for the picking of MacIntosh apples particularly, running in full swing in the North Okanagan at the present time, were escorted to their resettlement points last Sunday morning....It is reported, however, that the Japs were agitating for higher wages, which at the time, were $4 per day. This raise was refused, which resulted in a sit-down strike by the men. It is also reported that they were bruising the apples, and roughly treating the trees, and for these reasons, they were dismissed. ("Nearly Three Score," 1942)
Adachi surmises that the Okanagan Valley was particularly racist against the Japanese:
Hard-pressed farmers later employed hundreds of evacuees in their orchards, but the virulent racism in the Okanagan Valley never really died down, and the city of Kelowna remained its hotbed. (1976, p. 255)
In summary, the quest for labour in the Okanagan during World War II resulted in Japanese labour in the north and Doukhobor labour in the south. The Doukhobors migrated voluntarily whereas the Japanese, with no civil rights, migrated involuntarily, some of whom faced further involuntary labour. The use of involuntary Japanese labour for agriculture occurred in other parts of Canada as well as the Okanagan. There were 2,585 Japanese in Alberta, 1,053 in Manitoba, and 350 in Ontario, all working on sugar-beet projects (Ujimoto, 1985, p. 127; Broadfoot, 1979, p. 163).
Lastly, a major post World War II group, the Portuguese, are examined for not only their agricultural labour but also their farm ownership in the South Okanagan.