June 14, 2004

Cheerful Laughter Amidst Tragedy of New Denver

Continuing our trip homeward, we left Nakusp around noon on June 8 and headed for New Denver. We wanted to visit the Nikkei Memorial Internment Centre there.

The few buildings are the only existing remnants of all the internment camps that held some 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during WWII -- a shameful stain on Canada's history, as over 70% of the internees were Canadian citizens. They were uprooted from B.C., and then after the war ended they were not allowed to return home, but had to move east of the Rocky Mountains.

As we walked into the site, we could hear a happy male voice laughing and chattering away. We entered the reception area, and the man behind the voice looked familiar. My wife Yumi exclaimed, "I've seen you on TV!"

It was "Nobby" Hayashi, former bat boy for the famed pre-war Japanese-Canadian Asahi baseball team, and we'd seen him in a documentary video that was produced when the team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame recently. Better late than never....

We toured the centre, and as we moved from building to building, my anger and sadness grew at what had transpired in a so-called democracy, and at the blatant racism. It was shocking to hear cheerful women's voices calling to each other in Japanese as we walked around the site, and to turn a corner to see beaming, beautiful, elderly faces in a place that to me seemed to hold such sadness.

I had many questions for Mr. Hayashi. He said there were only about 20 Japanese left in New Denver, all that remained of a handful of tubercular and family-less internees who were allowed to stay on in the town when the other 2,000 or so internees were forced to move east when the camp closed.

They must all be in their 70s to 90s.

I didn't ask what will happen when they're all gone.

I sat in the beautiful gardens created for the centre among the ghost-filled buildings, and pondered people's inhumanity toward other human beings.


Yumi entering the building in which we found Nobby Hayashi manning the counter.

Posted by Paul at June 14, 2004 08:59 PM