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The Japanese in Southern Alberta

By February 1942, Japanese-Canadian women systematically removed from the west coast of British Columbia resettled in Picture Butte and other small towns in southern Alberta. This was done in compliance with the War Measures Act. Prior to the women's arrival, a small Japanese community existed in southern Alberta and was centred mostly in Lethbridge and a few of its surrounding communities. Japanese in these areas mainly farmed and operated small businesses in towns and cities. Second-generation Japanese-Canadians wanted to serve their "King and Country" in order to demonstrate their loyalty to Canada. Their efforts were met with refusal and skepticism. For the most part, Japanese-Canadians residing in southern Alberta were not treated with hostility, as were some German-Canadians and Italian-Canadians. Newspapers urged the public to treat Japanese-Canadians with humility and decency, reminding them that the Japanese are loyal, hard-working people.

Alberta's labour shortage provided an ideal setting for the displaced Japanese-Canadians. Alberta sugar beet growers requested their presence to work as labourers. The Japanese community preferred sugar beet labour to internment. Toiling in the fields provided them with the opportunity to work with their friends and family. However, their living conditions were less than ideal. Many lived in granaries or chicken coops. Unable to receive adequate rest, they had to rise at the crack of dawn and carry out backbreaking labour throughout the day. Resilient, Japanese-Canadian families improved their lot by saving their meager funds and constructing better housing.

In the beet fields, workers were paid $27 an acre (0.4047 hectare) if they met their quota of twelve tons. If they did not, their pay was substantially reduced. The adults worked while the children fetched water and food. They continued to fight for better wages and better living conditions. With the help of pastors, southern Alberta's Japanese-Canadian community built Buddhist temples in Taber, Coaldale, and Picture Butte and opened cooperative stores.

From the onset of Japanese resettlement, the Alberta government made it clear that it did not want an influx of Japanese people moving to the province. It soon struck a deal with the federal government, stipulating that all Japanese newcomers were to be shipped out of the province within six months of the war's end. Moreover, the Japanese were to live on farms and could not settle in cities. However, none of these plans ever materialized as Japanese labour was still desperately needed. In 1948, displaced Japanese-Canadians became residents of Alberta with full privileges equal to those afforded other Albertans.

Reference

Adachi, Ken. The Enemy that Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1991.


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