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Miyoko Ohtake

by Ruth Brown Johnson | November 29, 2000

Miyoko Ohtake (née Kadoguchi), born in Cumberland, British Columbia, was a coal miner’s daughter who assumed, at age 13, the care of her three sisters when their mother died. Playing games, a normal part of so many children’s lives, was rare for Miyoko. Her time was filled with doing chores as soon as she got home from school.

I went to school in Cumberland, but I couldn’t continue because of my responsibilities. Our choir travelled to other towns and cities for music festivals. I remember songs I learned: Annie Lawrie, London Bridge, and, I Never Saw A Purple Cow. They are still very special to me.

I enjoyed reading, mostly Canadian books, including a few about Japanese Canadians. Blondie and The Katzenjammer Kids were our favourite comics. I read Japanese comics too.

In 1942, after Japan entered World War Two, Ottawa passed the War Measures Act, which imposed severe restrictions on all Canadians of Japanese origin. The most severe restriction of the act was the immediate uprooting of all Japanese Canadians from their coastal homes in B.C. in order to allay fears that some or any of the Japanese living in Canada might be spies or secret agents. The Canadian government stripped 20,000 people of their property and forcibly moved them to internment camps where they were confined until after the War had ended. Initially, the Japanese were rounded up, sent to Vancouver, and taken to the Hastings Park Evacuation Centre.

When we were sent to the evacuation centre, we had to carefully choose what to take because you could only take what you could carry. We had to hand in cameras and all radios. Cars and fishing boats were confiscated, and all property was taken, including our homes.

We had lots of pictures from Japan, pictures of my grandparents and other relatives. We had never seen our grandparents because we were born in Canada and they were in Japan. All those photographs we left behind because we had other things to carry. To this day, we haven’t any pictures of our grandparents or pictures of our childhood days.

Special items were packed and put in attics and basements – out of the way, so they could be reclaimed later – but the new home owners just discarded what was left.

The evacuation centre was a building for cattle, horses and other farm animals at the Pacific National Exhibition, which had been converted into temporary living quarters for evacuees. The stalls for animals, with their sickening smells, became the sleeping quarters for women and children.

Miyoko and her future husband, Frank Ohtake, met at the evacuation centre, but by mid-June, Miyoko and her family were sent to Tashme Internment Camp.

The Tashme Internment Camp was located near Hope, B.C., on a former cattle farm. The hastily built dwelling, where Miyoko lived with her family of five, was a small wooden shed. There was no electricity, only a kerosene lamp. Seven or eight people lived in each dwelling and, if the family was small, two families would share living quarters.

The sheds were built from rough lumber, hammered together with tar paper on the outside, and that was all. We had straw mattresses which froze in the winter. My father, a very gentle man, was really upset when the mattresses were frozen, so he carried one on his shoulders and took it to the welfare office to complain. He asked, “Why are my daughters forced to sleep under these conditions?”

As a result, the mattress was replaced and the wall covering of the home was improved.

Frank was never in a camp. He moved to Toronto in 1942. Once settled, Frank sent for Miyoko with marriage plans for the near future. Once Miyoko received family permission, reunion was no problem. She was able to leave the camp to join Frank in Toronto. They married in 1944 and eventually moved to Cabbagetown (a neighbourhood of Toronto). Although both were Canadian born, the Canadian Department of Labour required them, because of their race, to obtain a license to purchase real estate property before they could buy a house.

You asked if the neighbours welcomed us; well, there were mixed feelings because it was just after the war. Some people were very nice and some were not. Some ladies said, “I’ll keep my front door open so that you can walk in anytime. So, come in and see me.” There were others who didn’t want to talk to [us], but the majority were good.

Miyoko and Frank had four children, three boys and one girl.

When our daughter, Kay, went to Lord Dufferin School, there was a cinder track. Kay remembers it because kids used to push her and other kids down on it because they were Japanese. Adults used to spit on their hair. Today, the children are all professionals working in social service areas.

The survivors of the war years felt a great need to regain confidence, spirit and faith in Canada. We had to be a dynamic force to demonstrate that we were not completely destroyed. The construction of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) became the means through which to achieve our goal.

The original JCCC was constructed in 1964. It became a very popular place for non-Japanese students as well, and helped change the image for Japanese Canadians in Toronto to a positive one.

By their own conduct in the face of discrimination and the volunteer activities they undertook, they and others in the JCCC turned the negative attitudes and ignorance toward Japanese Canadians around and shifted them to admiration and respect.

resources for this story
  • Cabbagetown, Then and Now: Frank and Miyoko Ohtake, Two Oral Histories, by RUTH BROWN JOHNSON, available for $11 (including postage) from Ruth Brown, 1201 – 115 The Esplanade, Toronto, ON M5E 1Y7 Phone/Fax: (416)366-0660 | May 1996
books about the Japanese in Canada and Cabbagetown
  • The Enemy that Never Was: A History of Japanese Canadians, by KEN ADACHI, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto | 1976
    revised edition | 1991
  • Yosai: Western Sewing, by Dr. MICHIKO AYUKAWA, Nikkei Images (newsletter of the Japanese Canadian Museum and Archives), volume 1, number III, pgs. 3–4 | July 1996
  • Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame, by BARRY BROADFOOT, Doubleday Books, Toronto | 1977
  • Cabagetown, Then and Now: Amby Flanagan, an oral history, by RUTH BROWN JOHNSON, ed., Toronto | 1993
  • Cabbagetown, by HUGH GARNER, Ryerson Press Edition | 1968
    Pocket Book Edition, Simon and Schuster of Canada Limited, Richmond Hill | 1971
  • CORE – Stories and Poems celebrating the lives of ordinary people who call Toronto their home, collected by RUTH BROWN JOHNSON, Enid Lee, ed., Toronto | 1982
  • Naomi’s Road, by JOY KOGAWA, Oxford University Press, Toronto | 1986
    Stoddart Publishing Company Limited | 1995
  • Stevenston Recollected: A Japanese-Canadian History, by DAPHNE MARLETT, ed., with interviews and primary translation by Maya Koizumi, Victoria, B.C. | 1975
  • Justice in Our Time, The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement, by ROY MIKI and CASSANDRA KOBAYASHI, Talonbooks, Vancouver, and the National Association of Japanese Canadians, Winnipeg | 1991
  • Issei: Stories of Japanese Canadian Pioneers, by GORDON C. NAKAYAMA, Britannia Printers Ltd., Toronto |1983
  • The Aquisitors, by PETER C. NEWMAN, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto |1981
  • Nisei Lycee Annual, Tashme Correspondence Classes, Tashme, B.C. | 1944
  • Nisei Lycee Annual, Tashme High School, Tashme, B.C. | 1945
  • Stone Voices: Wartime Writings of Japanese Canadian Issei, by KEIBO OIWA, ed., Vehicule Press, Montreal | 1991
  • The Exodus of the Japanese, by JANICE PATTON, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto | 1973
  • Cabbagetown Remembered, by GEORGE H. RUST-D’EYE, The Boston Mills Press, Erin, Ontario | 1984
    Stoddart Publishing Company Limited, Toronto | 1993
  • The Forgotten History of the Japanese Canadians: Volume 1, by YUKO SHIBATA et al., (excellent and exhaustive bibliogrophy), New Sun Books, Vancouver | 1977
  • The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War, by ANN GOMER SUNAHARA, J. Lorimer, Toronto | 1981
  • A child in prison camp, by SHIZUYE TAKASHIMA, Tundra Books, Montreal, Quebec | 1971
    First Paperback, Giunti Marzocco, Florence, Italy | 1976
  • Nekkei Legacy: The Story of Japanese Canadians from Settlement to Today, by TOYO TAKATA, NC Press Limited | 1983
  • Images of Cabbagetown, photography by JAMES WILEY, V.A. Gates, Toronto | 1994
  • The Japanese Canadians, by C.H. YOUNG, H.R. REID and W.A. CARRUTHERS, University of Toronto Press, Toronto |1939
films/other related works
  • The Pool: Reflections of the Japanese Canadian Internment, Falcon Films/International Telefilm, video call number 57723 | 1992
  • The New Canadian, Japanese Canadian Newspaper

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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