Photo credits: James Hollko

By Mike Abe

It was an honour to speak at the event launch of the Lost Fleet Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in January. The exhibit was on loan from the Vancouver Maritime Museum from Jan.-Mar., 2019.

At the launch, I spoke about Susan Fukuyama and her family. She is, like myself, a sansei, third generation Japanese Canadian who lives here in Victoria. Susan has a deep family history tied to the fishing boat industry and especially relating to this exhibit.  She has done some incredible research on her family. Her story along with photos and artifacts were displayed in the exhibit.

Susan’s grandfather, Senkichi Fukuyama, was born in 1889 in Fukaura, Japan. A carpenter by trade, he left home for Canada at the age of 16, arriving in Vancouver near the end of 1906. He travelled back to Japan to marry Yaye Okazoe on February 12th, 1919, later returning to Vancouver. Yaye, or Yayeko as we later found in her Canadian records arrived in Canada in May 1920. They settled at the Crescent Rooms at 259 Powell Street, paying rent of $15 per month. Senkichi received his certification of naturalization on February 1, 1921 and he and Yaye would have six children. By 1922, Senkichi and Iwakichi Sugiyama had created the Howe Sound Fisheries Ltd. located at 203 Powell Street. They were wholesale fish dealers and fishing contractors exporting and importing product. Five years later in 1927 they expanded the business to include the Burrard Fishing Company and a third company, the Canadian Saltery, was added in 1936. By 1941 the Howe Sound Fisheries owned a fleet of 5 boats: Howe Sound, Howe Sound II, Howe Sound III, Howe Sound IV, and Menzies Bay. Senkichi also ran a boat, the Orca G with the Howe Sound fleet.

Photos courtesy of Susan Fukuyama

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all the boats were confiscated and the companies and boats were forcibly sold.  In May 1942 the family was forced to move outside the designated “protected area” and their properties (2503 Triumph Street and two lots) were sold. They first settled in Revelstoke before moving onto Vernon. While in Vernon they were involved in fruit growing, eventually moving back to Vancouver by 1958. Once back in Vancouver the two men – Senkichi and Iwakichi – entered into the fishing business again.

Fukuyama Ltd. and Sugiyama Ltd. were created as a joint venture. The companies were eventually run by their respective sons until they retired. Senkichi passed away in Vancouver on June 12, 1984, at the age of 95.

Susan contacted our project to learn more about her family history. We were able to quickly locate the records of her fishing boats through the ledger created for a website for our book, Witness to Loss. By clicking on the boat name, or searching through owners’ names, we could find the sales documents, including one for the Howe Sound II, built in 1918, valued at $6,000, sold for $5,430.

Next we looked at our collection of files in the Bird Commission. For those not familiar with the Bird Commission, The Royal Commission on Japanese Claims, known as the Bird Commission for Justice Henry Bird, ran between 1947 and 1950 as support for Japanese Canadians to investigate the forced sale of their property grew. For Cabinet, it served as a way to demonstrate the government’s accountability. But the Terms of Reference for which a person could contest the sale of their property if they thought that they were sold for less than fair market value were very narrow and restrictive and prevented many people who had lost property from submitting claims. Thus, there are only about 1,400 Bird Commission files.

The records are useful and interesting and provide a glimpse into the arrangements the claimants made for their property, a perspective of what they claimed in 1947, including evidence like maps, lists, correspondence, and photographs, and evidence of how they argued their case for compensation to the commission, even within the restricted terms.

Takejiro Hirasawa Bird Commission File LAC RG33-69 Vol. 24 File 505 From Hamilton Ontario presentation

We located a small file for Senkichi Fukuyama and Iwakichi and Chiyo Sugiyama. In the case of Senkichi, for the $350 and $375 he received for each of his lots, and the $3,400 for his house at 2503 Triumph Street the Bird Commission recommended that he receive an additional 5% and $12.50 for each transaction for a total of $243.75. This is compared to the value of $5,200 for the house and lots that he submitted in his claim. After subtracting the $4,050 that he received from the sale, the final line indicates the difference that he thought he should be entitled to, $1,150, not the $243.75 calculated based on the blanket formula used by the Commission.

Our partnership with Library and Archives Canada has provided us with the digitized images for the 15,000 case files of Japanese Canadians uprooted during the 1940s. Although not in an easily accessible form yet, our work study student, Natsuki Abe was able to retrieve and adjust the readability of the case files for Susan’s grandparents and father, Senkichi’s partner, Iwakichi Sugiyama and his wife, Chiyo and the three companies. These case files provided an additional 918 pages of reading material.

As we reviewed the documents, there were many interesting and surprising items. We see in the file of the Howe Sound Fishery case file of August 20, 1942, a claim by Senkichi’s lawyer to Mr. Alexander indicating that his boat, Howe Sound IV was requisitioned for naval services on December 3rd, 1941 before Canada had even entered the war. He complied and delivered his boat on December 16, but received a telegram the next day saying the requisition was cancelled. The vessel was not returned until March 11, 1942 after which Howe Sound sold it to Charles Wilson for $18,500. Senkichi was writing to the government for a claim of $1,500 in loss of earnings while the government used it for 3 months. His calculations show he actually stood to lose $1,833.30 in charter money during that time. Later we see a letter on November 30, 1943 that states that he settled for $25 per day for 11 days, a mere $275 dollars.


Howe Sound Fishery LAC RG117 C-3, C-9210                           Burrard Fish Co. LAC RG117 C-3,C-9211

In the Burrard Fish Company case file, we found a letter as Glenn McPherson urges Frank Shears to advise Senkichi’s attorney to withdraw his Bird Commission claim as they both believe that the claim is outside the terms of reference. A later letter shows the withdrawal of the $10,276.85 claim for this company and a note that concludes that the claims were outside the terms of reference.

What struck me while talking to Susan were the smaller things that stood out to her. She has found the house on Triumph Street in Vancouver on the BC Assessment website so she knows that it is still standing today – although worth quite a bit more.  She was delighted to see a photo of the house from 1943 and was appreciative of having a record of how it looked when her grandparents lived there.

We also saw the Bill of Lading for the possessions that her family shipped to Revelstoke as they had the means to be self-supporting. Looking at the list of contents she noticed there was a Japanese instrument listed. “I still have it, she said, it’s a biwa”. We also came across a hand written letter with her grandfather’s signature and she was amazed at how similar it was to her own father’s signature.

It was encouraging to see these files help Susan bring her family history to life, providing a glimpse into her past as they coped with trying circumstances. This is one of the most rewarding and exciting output of the project for our Japanese-Canadian community, providing access to these records so that family members can learn more about their history.