My great grandparents passed away while my father was still young, so I had little idea what kind of people they were, or what relationship they had with their nisei children. For a long time, to me, they were just “the ancestors from Japan”. I think it was similar for my Dad and his siblings, with the language barrier, growing up on the outskirts of Winnipeg. When my great aunt passed, I realized how much work she had done as the family historian, and I wanted to keep her efforts alive.
I was shocked to learn about Sato-jima (Lion Island), where my great grandfather joined the family homestead in 1917, and how involved my great grandfather was in advocating for Japanese Canadians during the internment. I had always assumed as a kid that they both only spoke Japanese, and had been accustomed to farming.
My great grandmother died of illness during the internment, and her eldest daughter, my great aunt, was crippled by tuberculosis. My great aunt attended high school in Winnipeg on the condition of doing domestic work for a host family. She later studied cell biology and became an instructor at Red River College. Her younger sister eventually moved and started a family in Orangeville, ON. My teenage grandfather joined the war effort as a translator, and later worked with the CBC. My grandmother worked on sugar beet farms in Alberta and met my grandfather there after the internment. My sansei father and his siblings were born in Calgary but moved to Winnipeg as children. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and though I’ve moved across the country twice over as an adult, for my family, the roots in Winnipeg still run deep.