Friday 30 May 2014

From Enemy Aliens to Strategic Soldiers

My family and I attended Olivet United Church in Hamilton for 30 years.  There was a Japanese Canadian family there named Hyodo.  One day my dad told me a story about Mr. and Mrs. Hyodo.  They were not from Ontario, but British Columbia.  During the Second World War, they were rounded up and thrown into internment camps, simply because they were of Japanese heritage.  They weren't even born in Japan; they were born in Canada.  But Canada was at war with Japan and didn't trust anyone of Japanese descent.

Then my Dad told me another story.  He used to take his cars to a body shop on Dundurn Street in Hamilton owned by a man named Sam Suenaga.  I knew Sam was good because my Dad wouldn't let anybody but the best touch his cars.  Mr. Suenaga, like Mr. Hyodo, was of Japanese background.  And like Mr. Hyodo, he was from British Columbia.  His wife's parents had owned a quaint hotel in Victoria on Vancouver Island. When the police rounded up the Japanese-Canadians, their hotel was taken along with any other possessions they had.

The Hyodo's and the Suenaga's survived the internment camps despite the solitude and the hardships.
Midway through the war, the Canadian government, who had considered them "enemy aliens" at the beginning of the war, actually sang a different tune.  Why not use the Japanese-Canadians to infiltrate the enemy lines in Japan?  So, that's what they did.  Canadians like Mr. Hyodo were recruited by the army to sail to Japan, and go behind enemy lines, acting as Japanese.  They looked the part.  They knew the language.  And it worked!  The same people the Canadian government had imprisoned a few years before were now helping Canada win the war.

When Mr. Hyodo returned to Canada after the war, he settled in Hamilton, Ontario.  He married and raised four children.  He had a successful career.  Mr. Suenaga also married and raised a family.  He too had a successful career.  Mrs. Suenaga's family never did get their hotel back.  Mr. Hyodo's family never got their possessions back. For their part, the Canadian government acted like they did nothing wrong.

Decades passed and the war started to recede from people's memories.  Mr. Suenaga continued to fix cars. Mr. Hyodo retired.  One weekend in September of 1988, he decided to go fishing on Lake Ontario with some friends.  A sudden storm picked up on the lake, and his rowboat was overturned.  Tragically, Mr. Hyodo drowned. Later that month, the Canadian government issued a long overdue apology to the Japanese-Canadians who had been interned during the Second World War.  Mr. Suenaga heard the apology.  Mr Hyodo missed it by three weeks.

This post is dedicated to all of the Japanese Canadians who were interned in the British Columbia Interior during the Second World War.

Canadian Japanese interment camp circa 1945 courtesy

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