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‘My land is worth a million dollars’: How Japanese Canadians contested their dispossession in the 1940s

Abstract

On July 31, 1944, Rikizo Yoneyama, a former resident of Haney, British Columbia, an agricultural area east of Vancouver, wrote to the Canadian Minister of Justice to protest the sale of his property. Two years earlier, when he and his family had packed their belongings for their forced expulsion from coastal British Columbia, they could take with them only what they could carry and, like other displaced people, they left much behind. “I realize that we are the victims of a war emergency and as such are quite willing to undergo … hardship … to help safeguard the shores of our homeland,” wrote Yoneyama, “however, I do urgently desire to return to my home … when the present emergency ends. May I plead your assistance in the sincere request for the return of that home?” When letters like his did receive a response from the federal government (there is no record that he did so in this case) it came in the form of standard letter, acknowledging that “the disposal of … property will be a matter of personal concern” but informing Japanese Canadians that, in conformity with a new federal law, everything, including their homes, would be sold.

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jstross@uvic.ca
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He has published widely on the history of race, migration, and inequality in North America, including recent articles in BC Studies and the Journal of Planning History. Nicholas Blomley is a professor of geography at Simon Fraser University and is a member of Landscapes of Injustice. He has published widely on the geographical dimensions of law, particularly real property.

To acknowledge the centrality of collaboration in Landscapes of Injustice, a 7-year partnership project supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to unearth and tell the history of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, publications and presentations that make substantial use of project resources include the Research Collective as a named co-author. On this policy, see: http://www.landscapesofinjustice.com/collective-co-authorship/.

The authors thank the National Association of Japanese Canadians, the Contested Property Claims conference (Aarhus, Denmark), the Canadian Historical Association, and the Pursuit of Knowledge series of the University of Victoria for previous opportunities to present and discuss this work. The authors also thank readers Eric Adams, Martin Bunton, Kaitlin Findlay, Douglas Harris, Audrey Kobayashi, and Hildy Ross. For research assistance, particularly in coding letters, the authors thank Michael Abe, Stewart Arneil, Josie Gray, Ariel Merriam, and Hildy and Michael Ross, and, for locating additional sources, Lisa Uyeda, Linda Kawamoto Ried, and Sherri Kajiwara at the Nikkei National Museum. For mapping, the authors thank Reuben Rose-Redwood and Sonja Aagesen, and they especially thank Tine Kjølsen, whose home, full of Danish hygge, provided the space that allowed them to develop the initial ideas. Finally, the authors give particular thanks to Harold Yoneyama, who was immediately open to and enthusiastic about this work, as well as to the Landscapes of Injustice Community Council for its unwavering support.

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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