In 1904, the British Columbia Electric Railway Company purchased twenty acres on the Gorge Waterway from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The following year, Tramway Gorge Park opened with walkways, bridges, picnic tables, and most importantly, electric lights.
“And [The BC Electric Railway Company] had their railcar travel up through there” explains University of Victoria student researcher Paige Fehr “so visitors could have easier access to the park.”
Tramway Gorge Park became a popular day-trip for the citizens of Victoria.
“There was a lot of things for people to do there” says Fehr. “There was swimming, amusement, games…that sort of thing.”
Two years later, in 1906, two prominent members of Victoria’s Japanese Canadian community, Hayato “Harry” Takata and Yoshitaro “Joe” Kishida, raised five thousand dollars to open a Japanese Tea Garden in the park.
One of the men, explains Fehr “convinced his father, Isaburo Kishida, who was a professional gardener in Japan, to come to Victoria to work on the garden…to design the grounds and the teahouse that was going to be there.”
For the next three decades, Tramway Gorge Park, and the Japanese Garden flourished.
But then came the 1930’s, the Depression, and a declining interest in visits to the park.
The scenic railway closed, some of the buildings and attractions burned down in a fire, the waterslide closed, and the bathhouse was removed.
By the late 1930’s as global forces moved the world to war, the park was neglected and forgotten.
“And in 1939” explains University of Victoria student researcher Stephen Topfer, “the imposition of the war measures act led to all sorts of subsequent laws and acts that started to restrict the movements and activities of the Japanese [Canadian] people specifically on the coast.”
Then on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.
“that’s when internment kicked in” explains Topfer, “and so all people of Japanese descent were removed from the coast.
“They lost their property in terms of houses and businesses, and they were interned in the Interior.
“At that point the garden obviously wasn’t operating. It got vandalized, things were sold off, eventually the government itself sold it off…ironically enough to help pay for the cost of internment.”
Watch Veronica Cooper’s feature on Tramway Gorge Park here