From Uprooted to Uprooting

By Ryan Dutchak

During the Second World War, Canada implemented a mass displacement and dispossession policy against Japanese-Canadians living in British Columbia. At this time, around 23,000 people of Japanese descent had been living in BC, and 21,700 of them were uprooted from their homes and dispersed throughout the country.

On an April morning in 1942, George Takeyasu’s family locked the door to their BC home for the last time. George, along with his parents and two younger siblings, boarded a train in Mission, BC and travelled to Picture Butte, Alberta. A two-suitcase luggage limit forced them to leave behind beloved pets and a house full of irreplaceable family belongings. They were told their possessions would be “properly protected and maintained.”

After arriving in Picture Butte, the Takeyasus were assigned to work for sugar beet farmer Mr. O. S. Been of Shaughnessy. At this point, George said he “felt like a slave on an auction block waiting to be bought.”

Working in the sugar beet fields was hard and backbreaking. George found thinning or individually separating the sugar beets to ten inches apart to be the hardest task. Thinning could only be done by hand and required the labourer to constantly bend up and down. Each acre of land had nine miles of beet rows and some rows were half a mile long. At times, George would make a game of it, as he would try to finish a whole row without standing up until the end. After three months of thinning under the hot summer sun, the seemingly “never-ending” process had been completed.

The year of 1942 was extremely difficult for the Takeyasus because their lives were so dramatically altered. Nevertheless, they persevered and George moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1946 to attend college. Like many Japanese-Canadians, their property in BC was sold and their familial possessions were lost forever.

Ryerson University’s Dr. Pamela Sugiman will be in Lethbridge to discuss the mass displacement and dispossession of Japanese-Canadians. Her presentation will take place at the Crossings Branch Library on March 21 at 7 pm.