Project Canterbury

Japanese Canadians East of the Rockies: Report to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, 1945.

By Cyril H. Powles

Transcribed by Richard Mammana, 2014


Although the compulsory evacuation of Canadians of Japanese origin from British Columbia has been going on for three years, the only national body representing the Canadian (Anglican) Church which has taken any definite action in that field was the Council for Social Service, until, in January of this year, the Consultative Committee set up a sub-committee under the chairmanship of the Rev. H.G. Watts “with responsibility for ministering to the Japanese East of the Rockies.” At the request of the General Secretary, I came to Toronto on six month’s leave of absence from the Diocese of Montreal to “make a careful survey” of the situation. At the meeting of the sub-committee on April 10th (the day of my arrival) it was decided that my duties should be threefold:

(1) To make a survey of action (if any) being taken by the church in communities where Japanese Canadians have been relocated, and to assess the needs of the Japanese in those communities.

(2) To publicize the true circumstances behind the evacuation of the Japanese Canadians, and to interest the churches in their plight.

(3) To integrate into their parish churches the relocees who are already in the east, whether Anglicans, or those who are adherents of no particular communion.


As it is impossible to separate above work entirely from the socio-political background of the Japanese-Canadians, the first two weeks in Toronto were spent largely in investigating these conditions. This was accomplished with the help of the Japanese division of the Department of Labour, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Council for Social Service of our own Church. The following facts emerged.

On Pearl Harbour Day there were resident in British Columbia between 22,000 and 23,000 people of Japanese origin. Of these approximately 18,000 were Canadian citizens, either by birth or by naturalization. Early in 1942, by official order, all people of Japanese origin resident within 100 miles of the Pacific Coast were moved inland to relocation centres, allegedly for reasons of security. At first this relocation was almost of a compulsory nature, when men were placed in road camps, or families were moved to areas of sugar-beet cultivation in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. The provinces to which these people were sent obtained from the Federal Government a pledge that they would be removed at the cessation of hostilities. This pledge has never been withdrawn. As part of this evacuation, all properties, other than those which were portable, were vested in the Custodian of Alien Property. Shortly after, much of this property, farms, fishing boats, and even many personal belongings, were sold by order-in-council. After much pressure by interested bodies, the Prime Minister made a statement of policy in the House on August 4th, 1944, in which the following points were laid down:

(1) Disloyal Japanese will be returned to Japan after the war
(2) Japanese will not be allowed to concentrate in B.C.
(3) There will be no further immigration of Japanese after the war.
(4) A ‘quasi-judicial’ commission will be set up to determine the loyalty of all Japanese Canadians

Relocation proved to be more difficult than had been expected, due to three main causes: (a) The Japanese were naturally unwilling to leave the fruits of many years toil in British Columbia. (b) Their reception in the East was at first very uncertain: they were not permitted to buy property; in many cities they were not even allowed to reside. Many who had owned independent businesses were now forced to seek employment. (c) The less aggressive members, after living for some time in relocation centres, developed a dependent attitude which made them unwilling to relinquish even the comparative security of the centres. This slowness caused some outcry from British Columbia and in the spring of 1945 a proclamation was issued by the government requiring all Japanese over the age of sixteen to sign a statement of purpose, either to remain in Canada or to go to Japan. If they desired the former, they were told that failure to move east of the Rockies might at a later date be construed as lack of cooperation with the Government. Those who wished to go to Japan were promised full restitution in cash of the value of their expropriated property. As a result of this, almost 50% of all Japanese resident in Canada expressed their desire to go to Japan. The factors behind this decision are too complex to be discussed here, but it is certain that this desire is not wholehearted, and that many, especially of the younger people, have no wish whatever to go to a country which they have never in many cases seen.

The true causes of forced evacuation are seen by sociologists to have nothing, or very little to do with security. An American writer, Galen Fisher, states that they are due to “certain economic and political interests, eager to profit by the expulsion of the Japanese; anti-Oriental prejudice, the present outburst being the latest of the racial eruptions that began 70 years ago; and the general acceptance by the public of the rumours of sabotage by Japanese residents of Hawaii.”

The results of relocation have been both good and bad. Relocees have found in many parts of eastern Canada a chance for a fresh start, and for advancement which was impossible in the more prejudiced West Coast. This applies of course, mainly to the younger relocees. On the other hand, the manifest injustice of forced evacuation and sale of property has given cause for bitterness and cynicism toward the workings of democracy in general, and Canadian Society in particular. An interesting facet of this feeling is seen in the general division of viewpoint between those who are Christians and those who are not. The Christian sees much behind the discrimination, and is able to judge it in a more level and comprehensive manner.

The Survey

The first two weeks were spent in Toronto and district. Although between eight and nine hundred Japanese live in this area no organized work has been carried out by our church. (We have record of about ninety communicants in the city of Toronto alone.) Interested individuals are spending what time they can spare in working with the young people and one downtown parish has a worker who is a returned missionary, who devotes one day a week to work among the Japanese. Apart from these isolated cases, nothing is being done on the scale that the United Church is carrying on in Carlton Street, Metropolitan and All Nations Churches alone. Individual Japanese who are strong church people have attended our services on their own, but many of the young people, drawn by the warmer fellowship extended to them by the above mentioned United Churches, are attending their services and weekday activities.

In Hamilton the same holds true. (There are 14 families here recorded as communicants of our church.) It is even reliably reported by a member of the WA there, that a move to increase work among the Japanese which was started in the Synod of Niagara was warned against by a clergyman of the synod whose word carried greater authority because he had resided at one time in B.C.

In Montreal, where there are around seven hundred Japanese, the work has been better coordinated, thanks to the efforts of the chairman of the Missionary Committee of that Diocese, himself a former missionary in Japan. But even here an efficient programme is hindered, due both to lack of time and of a sufficient budget for operations.

The next move was a trip through western Canada. First, through the kindness of Canon Dixon, letters of recommendation were sent to all the Bishops through whose Dioceses I was to be passing. In Fort William I found an efficient piece of work being done among our Japanese by the Ven. C. W. Balfour, who has spent some time in visiting those newly arrived from the West; has assisted in finding them houses; and has done his best to help them into congenial living. His record is an outstanding one among the parish clergy.

In Winnipeg it was discovered that there are no Japanese connected with our Church. There are around two thousand people living in the Province of Manitoba, but the United Church seems to have a monopoly of Christian work, supporting as it does a full time ordained missionary. The Archbishop of Ruperts Land, however, expressed himself as being most anxious to do whatever was possible, and has accordingly notified the parish priests of all the districts in which it was known that there were Japanese residing.

In Regina there were no evacuees to speak of, although there are a certain number of Japanese who have been living here since before evacuation. No problem arises in these cases.

Calgary is one of the many cities in Canada where the Japanese have been excluded by civic enactment, although there are a few who live there in spite of this, mainly engaged in domestic employment. The Bishop is most anxious to see some work begun among the 3,000 Japanese who are living in the beet-growing areas of his diocese, and urged us to notify him if there should be any action which could be taken to provide such work.

Lethbridge is a similar prohibited area, but is the centre of the beetgrowing area mentioned above. In this area there is not a single Anglican priest resident, except on the Indian reservation at Cardston. The rector at Lethbridge is most enthusiastic, but is tremendously overworked by the care of his own large congregation, and with ministering to the naval and military garrisons.

In the relocation centres of Slocan City, New Denver, and Tashme, meetings were held, both with the missionaries working there, and with the first and second generation members of the Japanese congregation. The picture here is one of indescribable confusion: no one seems to know what lies ahead. Anxiety fills the air. The bad rumours are the only ones believed. Many feel that the only future for people of Japanese origin lies in an early return to Japan where they may live out their declining years in the land of their fathers. Such a course seems equally hopeless to the younger people, whose outlook is Canadian. The result is chaos. A meeting of the workers reflected this feeling, although here there was an eagerness to try and find some policy which might result in some hope for the future. As the combined result of the findings in Alberta, and of a recent visit there by the Rev. G. G. Nakayama, our Japanese priest, there seemed to be a feeling that the best future for this work lay, for the present at any rate, in the Diocese of Calgary.

Accordingly, on my return to Toronto, I made that recommendation and Mr. Nakayama has now moved to Coaldale near Lethbridge, and is preparing to begin work among the Japanese of the beet-cultivation area.

Educational and Deputation Work

A dilemma which was constantly having to be faced in this work was the question of where to place the greater emphasis: on actually ministering to the Japanese, or on educating the English community to which they were coming. It was finally decided that a certain amount of time should be spent in the latter field. Mine was a short term appointment, and the immediate need was found to be in a great many places, the arousing of interest of the English congregations to the need of the Japanese, of whose plight the majority are almost completely ignorant. I therefore welcomed the opportunity of preaching wherever it came, and was able, in the course of my travels, to speak in churches of the following centres: Montreal, Cowansville, Toronto, Grimsby, Winnipeg, Fort William, Regina, Lethbridge, Slocan City, New Denver, and Vancouver. In addition to preaching, I addressed groups wherever possible informally—the Executive Committee of the Diocese of Algoma, the London Local Council of the AYPA, and so on. The MSCC sent me as its official representative to the Dominion Council of the AYPA at Kenora; to the Qu’Appelle Diocesan Summer School at Regina; and to the National Conference of the CSM at Lake Couchiching. All of these furnished many opportunities for speaking, both formally and informally, about the work among the Japanese. In addition to these official representations, I attended and took part in the Interchurch Missionary Education Conference at McMaster University, and the Bedford Deanery Camp in the Diocese of Montreal. At every one of these places valuable contacts were made which have ever since proved to be of great use in linking up and placing Japanese in various centres of church activity.

Another phase of the educational work was the publication of a pamphlet giving a summary of the background of Japanese work, and suggesting ways in which the local community might assist. This pamphlet is not original, but is, by kind permission, a modification of material arranged by the Interchurch Advisory Council, of which Canon Judd is a member. It has been widely circulated through contact parties in centres across Canada, and by exhibition at conferences attended. It has proved most useful in providing a concise statement, both of the history of the Japanese work, and of projects which can be undertaken by individuals or church groups. It makes good followup material for the placement scheme initiated by the Interchurch Advisory Committee.

Pastoral Work

Much of this has consisted in linking up relocated families with Eastern Parishes. This is effected by means of transfers which were formerly sent from the relocation centres to the Council for Social Service, which then relayed them to the various parish priests. This work of supererogation on their part was handed over to me when I came on the scene.

The time left over from the survey and deputation work for visiting proved to be something in the nature of about six weeks. This is only an approximation, as the three fields all overlap to a considerable degree, and a good deal of visiting was accomplished in the course of travelling. It was necessary, however, to choose areas where  the need was greatest. This side of the work was being covered as efficiently as possible in Montreal, and a certain amount of work was being done in Toronto: an area too large in any case to do much else but pick on individual families for the present. It was therefore decided that a systematic visit should be made of the smaller centres, and of individuals working on isolated farms in southern and southwestern Ontario. Two trips were made: one down through Brantford, London, St. Thomas, Chatham and Windsor, and the second through the fruitgrowing region of the Niagara Peninsula. The system followed here was, first of interviewing the local parson (if he was at home. Holidays made this uncertain) and attempting to discover whether he was alive to his responsibilities toward the newcomers. Then to visit any families of which we had record as being definite adherents of our Church. The lists in these three cases were found to be incomplete, and it would be one of the first duties of a full time worker to bring them up to date.

The first journey revealed a situation which gives every hope of improving with the passage of time. In London and St. Thomas particularly outstanding cases were discovered of Japanese who are taking posts of leadership in parish work, often at first in the face of opposition from the English members of the parish, but now completely accepted, and acting as drawers-in of the more retiring members of their race. There is still, however, great need for someone to organize instruction for those members of families who are working on isolated farms such as the Hepburn Farm near St. Thomas. Here two large families, one of ten, the other of fourteen, have had no opportunity of Christian contact because of the distance of their farm from the centre of worship.

This also proved to be the case in the Niagara district, and we came upon the first evidences of real discrimination on the part of so-called church people. One case in Hamilton has already been mentioned. Another was discovered in the two of Grimsby: a situation of three year’s standing which is now practically irremediable, but one which would never have existed if the church had been willing to take a definite lead. It must be said for he parish clergy that in many cases they are doing their best, but that they were weighed down by routine work, and by the opinions of their English congregations. In almost every case they show an unworthy timidity in publicly extending fellowship to the newcomers, even though they may be willing to work with them to some extend privately. Another complicating factor is the inability of many of the older generation Japanese to follow the English language with ease: a situation which results in misunderstandings with the parish priest, and in poor attendance at services. There is a crying need for a field worker who is conversant with the Japanese language, who can visit these people and gradually work them into the life of the congregation.

According to instructions received from the committee at their meeting on June 16th, 1945, an effort was made to assist through this pastoral work in the placement of Anglican families in Eastern Canada. This proved to be a most difficult task, because, apart from domestic work, Church people made very little effort to sponsor families in their communities. This was shown in the failure of the Farm Placement Scheme to show any great results. To date this part of our work has resulted in only one actual placement, although one or two indirect placements are known.

During the latter part of August and the beginning of September it was decided that I should make one more trip to the centres in B.C. Since my last visit in the spring the situation was almost completely changed as a result of the Government’s segregation policy. Following the signing of the so-called applications for repatriation, all signers were moved to one of the centres of Tashme, Lemon Creek, Slocan City, or Roseberry; while those who wished to remain in Canada were moved, either to Kaslo or New Denver, depending on whether they were immediately relocatable or not. Once more there resulted cases of that disregard for private rights which have distinguished the government’s action throughout the course of forced evacuation. One significant fact has emerged: very few of our Christian families have applied for repatriation, with the result that the centre of church work has shifted from Tashme and Slocan City to New Denver and the centres east of the Rockies. Teachers and helpers in the Sunday Schools and Kindergartens, with a few exceptions, have left British Columbia. They are young, and there is little opportunity for them there. Thus the future of our work in the centres of B.C. depends on the government’s action with regard to repatriation, although the centre at New Denver, consisting mainly of older non-relocatables and patients in the Sanatorium, may be a permanent community with a life-expectancy of 20 years or more.


The recommendations of this committee form a basis for future action and may be divided into two groups: Social Witness and Pastoral Strategy. Although this survey has been conducted primarily from the standpoint of our missionary work among the Japanese, it has been made very clear that personal evangelism and social witness can never be separated. The power of the Church to preach the gospel is nullified, or at least greatly weakened, when she is unwilling to carry through the practical application of her teaching in the communal life of her own members.

Social Action

The Church must be the nation’s conscience, and cannot stand by silently when injustice is perpetrated. Our Council for Social Service has been striving valiantly, without much support from local bodies, in the fight for justice to the Japanese.

A. We therefore recommend that the MSCC, together with other bodies adequately representing the Canadian Church, make strong representation to the Canadian Government with regard to the present injustices in the repatriation scheme, and petition for some permission to reconsider, much in the form drawn up by the cooperating committees in Toronto this summer. Action in this matter must be swift.

B. We also recommend that representations be made by MSCC through the Canadian Council of Churches toward the immediate granting of the franchise to those who are loyal Canadian citizens by birth or naturalization, together with the restoration of all regular civil liberties: the waiving of restrictions on the ownership of property; movement about the country; granting of trade licenses; choice of residential locality, etc.

C. We also recommend that a pronouncement be made condemning the unchristian and racist activities of the Japanese Repatriation League, pointing out to Christians the true implications of such a movement in the light of the conflict through which we have passed, but from which we are not yet delivered.

Pastoral Strategy

The time has now come for a fearless rethinking of the setup of our work among the Japanese. The result of relocation, as we have seen, is that the work, once concentrated in B.C., is now spread fairly equally throughout the Dominion. The responsibility for evangelization has now become a Diocesan one most analogous to the setup of our missions to the Jews.

1. We therefore recommend that the responsibility now held by the Provincial Board of Missions to Orientals for work among the Japanese be extended to the Dioceses East of the Rockies, and that the assistance formerly given to PBMO be redistributed over the Dioceses in which Japanese are now resident in accordance with the size and efficiency of the work being conducted in each of those Dioceses.

2. We also recommend that, if possible, two fulltime workers—on a priest, who would not necessarily need to be able to speak Japanese, the other a lay worker, who would then have to be acquainted with the language—be made available to supervise work for Southern Ontario. Similar arrangements are also recommended for the Dioceses of Calgary, Ruperts Land and Montreal. If a priest cannot be obtained it is urgent that a lay worker be appointed at the earliest possible opportunity, as two and a half years have now elapsed during which many families have been allowed to slip away from the ministrations to which they have been accustomed in B.C.

3. We also recommend that it be clearly understood that all such work should be planned toward as early as possible an assimilation of all Japanese into local congregations. This will counteract the natural segregation which has resulted from the coldness of Anglo-Saxon members in not extending to them any real fellowship.

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