By Chuck Tasaka
Ray Torao Iwasaki was born in Ganges, B.C. in 1933 and he lived an idyllic life on Salt Spring Island in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. His father Torazo came to Vancouver in 1907. His mother, Fuku, from Shizuoka arrived on the Empress of Vancouver in 1918 to marry Torazo. Ray was surrounded by four sisters, Hideko (1920), Mitsuko (1922), Setsuko (1926), and Tsuruko (1931). The Iwasakis lived on Sunset Drive in a five-room house on a 640-acre spread.
Ray’s father was a marine engineer on a Japanese whaling ship in the 1900’s. His occupation took him many places on Vancouver Island and he was most impressed with Salt Spring Island. Torazo bought a huge tract of land on Sunset Drive. There, he grew vegetables and fruits, such as melons, cantaloupe, and cauliflower. Ray said that he never liked cauliflower.
Once a starving homeless man came to the Iwasaki homestead, and Ray’s parents fed him. After eating, this man walked along the driveway and picked up a melon. Mrs. Iwasaki warned him that it hadn’t ripened. The man took his knife out anyway and proceeded to cut a slice to taste. To his displeasure, the man spat out the melon and just walked away. That was life on Salt Spring Island during depression years of the 30’s.
Ray attended Central School and he said he went to the same school as Mary (Murakami) Kitagawa. This school was located near the cemetery. It closed down and the children attended the Consolidated Salt Spring Island Elementary in Ganges.
The Iwasakis had two cows for milk, but they hired a ploughman with a horse to turn the ground for planting vegetables. Torazo also had a sawmill, making herring boxes to supply the nearby salteries located on Galiano and Mayne Island. Torazo had plenty of timber for his mill, and the logs were stored across the bay.
Then, 1942 came and they were forced to vacate their property taking only what they could carry. They were assured that all their possessions would be taken care of by the Custodian of Enemy Properties. From Ganges, they took the ferry Princess Mary, and it docked at Mayne Island to pick up more Japanese Canadians. Mr. Iwasaki got off the ferry and refused to get back on. Torazo protested that he would not leave his beloved farm on Salt Spring Island. Finally, he was coaxed back on. The ferry took them to Vancouver and then to Hastings Park Holding Ground. Not too long after, the Iwasaki family was told they were going to Greenwood.
Ray could remember getting on the CPR train near Brighton Park. There weren’t many people he knew, maybe only the Ohara family. Ray said the train stopped in Hope, B.C. From there, they went to Greenwood.
They arrived in the afternoon and Ray noticed a sprinkling of snow falling in April. His father’s first impression was, “What are we getting into?” The United Church ‘Saviours’ were there to greet them. The B.C. Security Commission (BCSC) blue pick-up truck was parked at the station to take the luggage. Ray, as a young boy, said that they walked in a group to downtown Greenwood. Their first accommodation was the #11 Building or Mellor Block. Torazo wanted no assistance from the government so in a way his family was classified as self-supporting. He even explored Grand Forks, but having to live up in the mountains wasn’t ideal. Therefore, they were to stay at the Greenwood Auto Court, but shortly after, Torazo rented a house in Deadwood, an old ghost town a few kilometers west of the smelter.
Mr. Iwasaki’s intention was to have his own garden to survive. Torazo said that he did not want to become a ward of the government. Unfortunately, it was too late to plant seeds. Only cabbages and potatoes would grow high up in the hills. Then, he found out BCSC allowed the internees to have their own plot of land to grow vegetables. It was called Commission Garden beside Boundary Creek. Issei called it ‘Ko-mi-shon Gah-den’. Ray’s father bought a horse to work the land in Deadwood.
The most humorous anecdote that Ray had of Greenwood was that of some Issei fathers ‘borrowing’ the curling rocks from the rink. Once curling season ended, the rocks were put outside to dry. Well, being resourceful, some of the adults took the curling rocks home because they were perfectly round in shape to use as weights to fit into the barrel for the homemade dobutsuke to make cabbage tsukemono. In the late 50’s, I saw only one large stone in the barrel at the #5 Building. I guess, they returned the curling rocks once the tsukemono fermentation was completed. The rocks must have smelled like ‘nuka’ during curling season!
Ray was given the nickname ‘Crow’ in Greenwood because he used to run down about five kilometers to attend school. He took a path “Where the Crow Flies”. The family used their horse to bring them down to Greenwood to shop. Attending school was difficult, so Torazo finally decided to rent an old cabin near the Sacred Heart Church. That ‘house’ is still standing. Joe Mukuyama said that the Iwasakis owned a Model T Ford back in those days.
Ray graduated from Greenwood High School in 1950, but shortly after, the family moved to Toronto to be closer to their relatives. Ray attended University of Washington and graduated with a Business and Economics degree. He returned to Toronto and worked with the City of Toronto. After braving many winters in Toronto, the Iwasaki family decided to move back to the coast where the weather was much milder. They lived in Kitsilano and later moved to the Dunbar area where Ray still lives to this day. He married and has two sons.
In Rose Murakami’s book Gambaru: The Murakami Family of Salt Spring Island, she explained that Torazo and Fuku protested the sale of their 640 acre farm and mill. They sued the government in 1967 and this case went right up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The title to the property was transferred to the Secretary of State and then to Salt Spring Lands Ltd for $5250. Ray’s parents petitioned in the Exchequer Court of Canada alleging that the Secretary of State, in his capacity as the Custodian of Enemy Property, had fraudulently conveyed the property. The court ruled against the Iwasaki family in 1968. In 1971, Torazo died at the age of 91 and to his dying days, he believed he owned his beloved home and farm, and that it was taken away from him.
Torazo refused to accept the first paltry offer. Finally, the second offer had an ultimatum: Accept this amount or get nothing. His hands were tied and he accepted. Legally, the Iwasaki family lost the case, but was it morally and ethically justified? For further reading, Brian Smallshaw of Ganges completed his thesis “Racism and the Expropriation of Japanese Canadian Lands on Salt Spring Island.”
[About the Author]
Chuck Tasaka is the grandson of Isaburo and Yorie Tasaka. Chuck’s father was 4th in a family of 19. He was born in Midway, B.C., and grew up in Greenwood, B.C. until he graduated from high school. Chuck attended University of B.C. and graduated in 1968. After retirement in 2002, he became interested in Nikkei history.
[About Discover Nikkei]
This article was originally published in Discover Nikkei at <www.discovernikkei.org>, which is managed by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.