Japanese Canadians on Sea Island

Cannery workers and their families at Vancouver Cannery, Sea Island, on the occasion of the visit by the Japanese Consul, 1912

Cannery workers and their families at Vancouver Cannery, Sea Island, on the occasion of the visit by the Japanese Consul and his wife, 1912. City of Richmond Archives Photograph RCF 185

Many people are surprised to learn of the significant presence of Japanese Canadians on Sea Island prior to World War II.

Vancouver and Acme (top) Canneries on Sea Island, ca. 1932.  City of Richmond Archives Don Gordon collection

Acme Cannery (top) and Vancouver Cannery (bottom) on Sea Island, ca. 1932. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 166 10

 

Beginning in the early years of the last century, a number of Japanese moved to Richmond to work as fishermen and cannery workers for Vancouver Cannery and Acme Cannery, both located on the southwest corner of Sea Island.

 

List of families in cannery-owned housing, 1936. City of Richmond Archives MR 6, File 603-3

List of families in cannery-owned housing, 1936. City of Richmond Archives MR 6, File 603-3

 

 

The majority of the workers and their families lived in company-owned housing in close proximity to the canneries themselves.

The houses were built on both sides of the dyke running through the cannery properties.

A school, the Sea Island Japanese School, was established at Vancouver Cannery for the sons and daughters of workers of both canneries.

Sea Island Japanese School, Div. 2, 1929.  City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 39 65

Sea Island Japanese School, Div. 2, 1929. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1985 39 65

Sea Island Hurricanes, ca. 1938. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2004 2 1

Sea Island Hurricanes, ca. 1938. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2004 2 1

 

A sense of identity and a spirit of cooperation and self-sufficiency developed. Sports teams like the Sea Island Hurricanes (aka North Arm Hurricanes) played against lacrosse teams from Steveston and other communities, while groups like the Sea Island Young People’s Society organized a variety of social activities.

Sea Island Young People's Society on New Year's Day, 1939. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2013 8 1

Sea Island Young People’s Society on New Year’s Day, 1939. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2013 8 1

World War II, however, marked the end of the community on Sea Island, with the evacuation of Japanese Canadians in 1942 to camps in the interior of BC or to farms in Alberta.

The canneries were closed and the cannery-owned housing was destroyed.

The burning of cannery-owned houses at Acme Cannery. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2000 15 2

The burning of Japanese-Canadian houses at Acme Cannery. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 2000 15 2

When Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the BC coast in 1949, a number of former Sea Island residents made their way back to Richmond and settled in the Steveston area, where they resumed work in the fishing industry.

Cover of Program for the 1983 Reunion. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2014 4

Program for the 1983 Reunion. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2014 4

 

In 1983, a reunion was held for former Japanese-Canadian residents of Sea Island, as well as for those who had lived and worked at nearby Terra Nova and Celtic Canneries. The success of the celebration demonstrated how the spirit of community developed in the pre-war years had never been lost.

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