My grandfather, a young Englishman from a prosperous industrial family in Calne, Wiltshire, took up land on a bench above Slocan Lake between New Denver and Silverton in 1896, and planted a sizeable orchard. It was not successful; when the mines closed there was no accessible market. After Pearl Harbour, the BC Securities Commission leased the Bosun ranch, as it was called, for $50 a month, established some 50 elderly Japanese men in the ranch house, and built 23 houses for Japanese families on one of the ranch fields. For the next several years, connections between members of the Harris family and the Japanese on the ranch were close. My uncle gave the first arrivals coco and firewood after a cold trip from Kaslo in open trucks. My frail grandmother, who had hated leaving the home she had made, found it neater and the gardens more resplendent than “in her best years” when she visited it a year later. My aunt and uncle were having dinner with Mrs. Tomi Fuyihara when news of Hiroshima came over their radio. “Oh oh,” said Mrs. Fuyihara quietly, “that’s where my two children are” (her son was killed, her daughter badly burned). In 1943 my grandfather wrote to the Nelson Daily News — “it will be a great reproach to ourselves if we fail to turn these very gifted and energetic people into very important ingredients of our future Canada” — and later to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, telling him that New Denver had proved wrong the assertion that the Japanese could never assimilate. “The oft made assertion that The Brown Man and The Whites will never mix has little foundation. The children play together in most friendly fashion. The young people dance together.” After the war, one of the old men, Mr. Tanaka, asked to stay on in the ranch house. He always wore rubber boots, even on the hottest days, and my uncle bought him a leather pair. “Thank you, thank you, Mr. Sandy,” said Mr. Tanaka, but he never wore them. Months later, he invited my uncle to his room for a drink of homemade saki. “Mr. Sandy, come, drunk.” On a shelf at the head of the bed was a neat row of boots, my uncle’s at the end. When Mr. Tanaka died a few years later, the Japanese years on the Bosun Ranch were over. The ranch house sat empty, quickly deteriorated, and was taken over by pack rats.
Cole R Harris
Jun 13, 2014 | Touched by Dispossession | 0 comments