Visitors from Canada, Japan and the US walked among the rows of plantings at Old Airport Gardens last Friday, trying to remember or imagine what the site looked like in the 1940s when it was an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians displaced from their homes in the Lower Mainland.
Arnold and Aggie Malm welcomed the bus full of visitors to the Gardens and Bill Tanaka, who lived in the internment camp, was also there to greet them. The visitors included Betty Inouye, the daughter of Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki. It was the first of two tour visits to Lillooet organized by the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre.
Arnold Malm recalled going to school with the Japanese-Canadian students and how their crack baseball team helped break the ice between the internees living in East Lillooet and the townspeople living on the Lillooet side of the Fraser River.
Bill Tanaka remembered that the internees’ homes, which housed 70 to 80 families, were constructed of rough lumber and black tarpaper. He said the bare bones houses were hot in the summer and so cold in the winter that frost was visible on all the nail heads inside the structures.
The visit to the internment camp site and the ensuing visit to the Lillooet Museum, presentation of jade souvenirs by George Vanderwolf and a catered lunch and tour of the Miyazaki Heritage House came just days after Mariko Kage appeared as a delegation at the June 18 District of Lillooet Council meeting.
Kage told council she was representing an emerging Miyazaki House Revitalization Committee. She said she is concerned about the “apparent deterioration and general disuse” of the house, which is only open three months a year. Dr. Miyazaki donated the home and its surrounding gardens to the District of Lillooet in the 1980s.
Kage said that as she asked longtime residents to share their memories of Dr. Miyazaki, a portrait emerged of a man who was “very inspiring – for his accomplishments, positive outlook and goodwill towards people of all ethnicities and races.
“He was living proof that the tragedies and injustices of war and racial strife can be overcome with goodwill and fellowship and that ultimately all peoples can live in harmony and meaningful existence together, “ said Kage. “We think this is an important message not only for Canadians, but for the whole planet.”
She suggested the heritage house could be used as a film location, a writer’s retreat or as a location for a Writers in Residence program. The committee believes funding could be obtained from Japanese-Canadian sponsors, the Northern Development Initiative Trust and Heritage Canada without any cost to local taxpayers.
The committee is also interested in restoring the on-site root house, which it suggests could be used by the local food bank and soup kitchens to store bulk donations of local agricultural produce.
Kage asked for council to appoint a representative to work with the committee. Her presentation was well-received and council promised to discuss her request.