What's really going on in this idyllic historical farm scene near Kamloops? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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What's really going on in this idyllic historical farm scene near Kamloops?

S. Sakamoto (left) inspects this cucumber field near Kamloops in April 1948.
Image Credit: Submitted/Library and Archives Canada, ID#3198778

A 1948 photo posted to a BC history-based Facebook group last summer featuring a cucumber farm in Kamloops garnered dozens of comment but also questions about why all the workers are all Japanese Canadians. 

The photo above was posted on the Old BC: The Way it Was Facebook page last summer. The only information the group’s Facebook administrator Patrick Selby had was what came from the Library and Archives Canada site.

“Foreman S. Sakamoto (left) inspects the cultivation of 8,000 covered cucumber plants in a garden overlooking the North Thompson River near Kamloops, B.C.,” the photo description says. “The field workers are Japanese Canadian women.”

It was taken in April, 1948, according to the archives.

The posting triggered dozens of comments. Some praised the quality of the photo but most of the dialogue was about the hot caps that were placed on the cucumber plants, how reminiscent they were of a past time and how effective they were in extending the growing season.

But there seems to no record of who S. Sakamoto was or why he and these other Japanese Canadians were working that field.

It’s quite possible they were not there by choice since in 1948 as Japanese Canadians were still banned from returning to their former homes on the Pacific Coast.

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On Feb. 7, 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, BC ordered all male Japanese Canadian citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 to be removed from a 100-mile-wide zone along the coast of BC and three weeks later the mass exodus began.

Most of the detention camps were set up in the Kootenays, in places like Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan and Sandon.

“By the end of the year, approximately 12,029 persons are in detention camps in the interior of British Columbia, 945 men are in enforced labour camps, 3,991 are placed as labourers on sugar beet farms in the Prairie provinces, 1,161 are in voluntary self-supporting sites outside the ‘protected area’, 1,359 are given special work permits, 699 are interned in prisoner-of-war camps in Ontario, 42 are repatriated to Japan, 111 are in detention in Vancouver and 105 are in hospital in Hastings Park, approximately 2,000 were living outside the ‘protected area’ and allowed to remain in place but required to register and give up prohibited items, and subject to restriction of activities,” the BC Redress website says.

Three of the “voluntary self-supporting sites” were in the Lillooet area, called Minto, Bridge River and East Lillooet.

“Despite inflammatory editorials in the local newspaper opposing their presence, in April of 1942, the first arrivals in East Lillooet constructed sixty-two tarpaper shacks that came to house over three hundred people while their former comfortable homes, possessions and properties were auctioned off,” says an article on the District of Lillooet website. “Living conditions were inadequate in East Lillooet. Kerosene lamps provided light and wood stoves were used for warmth and cooking.

“Tokutaro Tsuyuki recognized Lillooet's climate to be ideal for tomatoes and organized an agricultural cooperative enterprise that allowed the internees to eke out a living and survive. To this day, fields the internees pioneered are famous for their superior sun-ripened tomatoes."

The Japanese were not allowed to catch any salmon in the Fraser River or cross the bridge into Lillooet but sympathetic members of the St'at'imc First Nation helped by smuggling sacks of salmon in on horseback.

“Each family had a strip garden and a chicken coop which provided eggs and poultry,” the District of Lillooet website says. “Three general stores in Lillooet regularly delivered all other basic supplies. The community built a school where high school graduates instructed young children while older students worked on correspondence courses.”

Other Japanese from the Kootenay detention camps were conscripted to work in Okanagan orchards and help build Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton.

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Henry Sugiyama was a schoolboy when the war broke out and, for a time, lived in Kamloops after being forced out of Vancouver.

He was interviewed by his wife, Joanne Sugiyama, in Toronto in 2009 for the Sedai Project, a Japanese Canadian Legacy Project.

In order to voluntarily evacuate, his father needed a sponsor and found one in Kamloops. The report says that might have been a Mr. Oishi.

“Mr. [Oishi?] received a lot of flack from the citizens of Kamloops for inviting these enemy aliens into the vicinity,” Henry Sugiyama recalled. “This sentiment was voiced quite loudly in the newspaper, the Kamloops Sentinel. As a matter of fact, Mr. Oishi asked me to write a letter of rebuttal, which I did, and was gratified to realize that at least the freedom of speech was still with us.

“Of course, they wouldn’t let us live in the city itself and we were forbidden from buying any property in the neighbourhood so my father loaned money to a neighbour to purchase a house in North Kamloops in his name so that we could live in it. Now this was a house with no indoor plumbing but it was big enough for all of us.”

Their evacuation order said they had to be out of Vancouver by May 25, 1942. They left earlier.

“When we arrived in Kamloops, dad looked at the notice and thought the best before date was May the 25th,” Sugiyama said. “So, surreptitiously, he returned to Vancouver before the 25th of May and came back to Kamloops with a moving van loaded with the rest of our furnishing. Not only that, he drove back in his old car which was supposed to be impounded. To this day, I don’t know how he managed to do this but it was quite a feat.”

They lived in Kamloops for three years until Sugiyama graduated from Grade 12. He applied for and won a “prestigious” scholarship to UBC but of course he could not attend. That was in August 1945, the same month the war ended. But what people may not realize is that the Japanese were not fully free to return to their coastal homes until 1949.

Eventually, Sugiyama headed to university in Winnipeg, for medical school.

“Medical school was a real challenge in that I was in with the veterans and I felt a little uncomfortable in that some of these veterans actually fought in the Eastern front and they were much older than I was,” Sugiyama told his wife. “But, fortunately, I found that these veterans were very kind to me, and life was very easy. As a matter of fact, the only discrimination I found was from my fellow Japanese.”

After graduation he moved to Toronto where he worked in the Raxlen medical clinic. He died in Toronto at the age of 94.

As for S. Sakamoto, iNFOnews.ca contacted both the Kamloops and provincial Japanese-Canadian associations but no one had any information about him, his life in the cucumber fields or whether these Japanese workers were just struggling to survive until they could be freed of their exile.

As for the cucumber plant caps, they were a version of glass cloches that, according to a Michigan State University website, were invented in Italy in 1623. Essentially, they were mini-greenhouses.

They are still in use today and can be bought commercially or people can make their own versions out of things like pop bottles or milk jugs.

The Gardening Know How website, for example, has lots to say on how to make and use the hot caps.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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