Canadian War Museum Acquires Photos of Life in a Japanese-Canadian Internment Camp

May 31, 2016


For immediate release

Ottawa, Ontario, May 31, 2016 — The Canadian War Museum has acquired a photo album created by Michiko “Midge” Ayukawa (née Ishii) when she was a teenager. She and her Japanese-Canadian family were treated as enemy aliens and forcibly relocated during the Second World War. More than 100 candid snapshots record her life at the Lemon Creek internment camp in the Slocan Valley, B.C., as well as before and after the war.

“These rare photos add to our collection of visual material documenting the experiences of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War,” said Stephen Quick, Director General of the Canadian War Museum. “The stories they tell about day-to-day life at Lemon Creek contribute enormously to our understanding of how people coped with forced relocation, confinement, the confiscation of property, racism and other mistreatment during and after the war.”

Ayukawa was born on June 26, 1930 in Vancouver, B.C. to Kenji and Misayo Ishii. Following Japan’s entry into the Second World War in December 1941, the Canadian government forcibly removed all Japanese Canadians — including the Ishiis — from the coastal areas of British Columbia. They were relocated inland to detention camps, road construction camps and prairie sugar beet farms. The government seized their homes, businesses and most of their personal belongings, and sold them to fund the camps.

A seemingly typical teenager despite the challenging circumstances, Ayukawa included images of her friends and other residents, as well as of conditions at the camp. She also documented activities such as theatre and musical performances and sports — the Lemon Creek All-Stars won the Slocan Valley baseball championship in 1942–1943. Some pages of her album resemble a school yearbook, with individual, autographed portraits of friends. Many of them added sentiments such as “miss you” or “hope we meet again.” Other photographs document the experiences of her father at the Blue River road camp. Most are meticulously captioned with names, dates and locations.

After the war, the Ishii family, like other Japanese Canadians, were prohibited from returning to the British Columbia coast. They moved to an abandoned prisoner of war camp at Neys, O.N. before making a new home in Hamilton. Ayukawa went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry, and married Kaoru “Karl” Ayukawa in 1955. She worked briefly at the National Research Council in Ottawa and later taught chemistry at Carleton University and the University of Victoria.

After being widowed in 1981, she began a new chapter of her life, studying Japanese history and language at the University of Victoria, and completing a master’s degree and a PhD focusing on the lives of Japanese immigrants. As a historian, Dr. Ayukawa wrote extensively about the poverty, racism and violence that Japanese-Canadian women endured. Her publications include the landmark article “Good Wives and Wise Mothers: Japanese Picture Brides in Early Twentieth-Century British Columbia” (BC Studies, 1995) and the book Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891–1941 (UBC Press, 2008).

After Dr. Ayukawa passed away in 2013, her family offered the album and related photographs to the Canadian War Museum.

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions.

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Media contacts:
Yasmine Mingay
Director, Public Affairs
Canadian War Museum
Telephone: 819-776-8608

Avra Gibbs Lamey
Senior Communications and Media Relations Officer, Canadian War Museum
Telephone: 819-776-8607

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