NNMCC Research Archivist Linda Kawamoto Reid displays a scroll after donning protective gloves to handle the historic material. ​Photo credit: Kaitlin Findlay with Nikkei National Museum archival collection.

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June 29, 2016

Acquisition of pre-war Japanese-Canadian property restores a stolen history

Priceless family heirlooms once owned by one of the wealthiest pre-war Japanese Canadians now serve as a stark reminder of a national historical injustice and will feature prominently in the ambitious project, Landscapes of Injustice, led by the University of Victoria and culminating in a nation-wide museum exhibition, as well as teaching tools for all Canadians. The Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre (NNMCC) secured the recent donation from the family of Eikichi Kagetsu, a lumber baron who first came to Canada in 1906 and whose property held an approximate value of $8 million in today’s dollars when it was forcibly dispossessed in 1943.

Kagetsu’s empire was destroyed by the federal government’s seizure and forced sale of property. The NNMCC is a major partner of Landscapes of Injustice, a seven-year, multimillion-dollar research project about the history of the dispossession of property of Japanese Canadians during the 1940s. The Kagetsu family resettled in Toronto after leaving BC immediately after the war.

Before the war, Kagetsu owned his own railroad track, a small town for company workers, an oyster business and prime real estate including a family home in Kerrisdale, an office in downtown Vancouver, a summer house in West Vancouver and a Deep Bay logging operation in Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island. He was also president of the Canadian Japanese Association for 10 years and met visiting dignitaries including members of the royal family of Japan.

This past fall, NNMCC Director-Curator Sherri Kajiwara and NNMCC Research Archivist Linda Kawamoto Reid travelled to North Carolina to fulfill a promise—made to the widow (now living in the southern US) of Kagetsu’s youngest son Jack before his death in 2006—to preserve the family’s history, returning to Vancouver with half a dozen bankers’ boxes containing over 200 lbs (more than 90 kg) of historic material including diaries, photos, charcoal drawings, business cards, brocade books and precious textile items.

“It is an incredible story this material has even survived,” Kajiwara says. “Very few such objects remain in the community.” Adds Reid: “Working through the artifacts, we see how venerated and esteemed Kagetsu was.”

“This collection is an incomparable resource for understanding the history of BC,” says Jordan Stanger-Ross, UVic historian and project director. “It reveals stories of international migration and struggle, workers’ lives on Vancouver Island, and above all of an unusually entrepreneurial and spectacularly successful man who overcame great adversity only for a racist Canada to dismantle his life’s work. This story is one of many that need to be told.”

The NNMCC, which houses archival materials, art and artifacts relating to Japanese-Canadian heritage, will co-curate the museum exhibit to tour Canada in 2021. In collaboration with 15 partners, the UVic-led project Landscapes of Injustice will also produce teaching materials for elementary and secondary school classes, educational websites, scholarly and popular publications, and public presentations across the country.

This dynamic public history project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is currently one of the biggest research projects in the field of humanities in Canada.
Follow on Twitter @LandscapesInjus (#1942dispossession) and facebook.com/Landscapes-of-Injustice.

High-quality photos available to media at Dropbox (http://bit.ly/28SYU50).

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Media contacts:
Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross (Project Director, Landscapes of Injustice; Dept. of History) at jstross@uvic.ca
Sherri Kajiwara (Director-Curator, NNMCC) on cell Monday at 604-318-6454 or at skajiwara@nikkeiplace.org
Kaitlin Findlay (Student Researcher/Knowledge Mobilization, Landscapes of Injustice) at kfindlay@uvic.ca
Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6248 or tksharpe@uvic.ca

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