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75 years later, Newsday editor Henry Moritsugu remembers a camp

Henry Moritsugu, 8, and Ted, 3, with their

Henry Moritsugu, 8, and Ted, 3, with their mother, Shizuko, 43, in front of the tar-paper shack home in the Tashme internment camp near Hope, British Columbia in 1942. Photo Credit: Family Photograph

Like the United States, Canada detained citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Henry Moritsugu, a Newsday editor, was interned with his family in a camp in British Columbia. He wrote this account for Newsday in March 1998:

Canada, as part of the British Empire, was already at war in Europe, but in Vancouver in 1940, the sounds of battle were distant echoes. For a first-grader there was just enough time after school for a quick snack at home before running on to Japanese-language school, as was the custom for children of immigrant families. It was a time, though, when Japan’s aggressions on the other side of the world fueled anti-Asian feeling.

Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. In Vancouver, “blackouts” against potential air attack had begun. A curfew was imposed for those of Japanese origin. We were barred from military service. Our cars, boats, radios and cameras were confiscated.

Soon the Canadian government ordered us (22,000 of us) to abandon our homes and be moved inland at least 100 miles. My father and two oldest brothers had already been taken away to “road camps” to do manual labor on British Columbia’s highways. Our family — Mom and the remaining six children — were among those shipped by train in the summer of ’42 to Hope, B.C. There we were herded onto trucks for a treacherous 14-mile ride on mountain canyon roads to a makeshift tarpaper-shack community.

“Tashme” was one of a half-dozen such internment camps in British Columbia’s interior, home for the duration under the watchful eye of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. At first the seven of us had to share one of those shacks with another family of five, hanging sheets in the middle for privacy. We children were taught in camp schools by other internees. Homework was done in the dim light of kerosene lamps. I chopped kindling for the wood-burning potbellied stove that served for both heat and cooking meals. With no plumbing, each group of four homes shared an outhouse.

Our family got permission to leave Tashme late in 1943 to do farm labor in southern Ontario, but most Canadian internees remained in the camps as late as 1946.

Official apologies and redress payments to the victims of injustice didn’t come until four decades later.

While former internees voiced outrage at the injustice of their treatment, more pervasive was a sense of shame in being treated like criminals. They suffered a sense of denial that continues to this day; many still have not told their children about the bitter experience.

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