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The Japanese community in Alberta is perhaps best known in terms of its arrival after evacuation from the west coast of British Columbia in the difficult years of World War II. However, the community's presence has much earlier roots. The capacity of the community to face and successfully resolve these challenges is one of the more important stories of its settlement and contribution to Alberta.

Early Years

Japanese settlement at Hardieville The first Japanese settlement in Alberta was the idea of Takemoni Nagatani, who arrived in 1906 after graduating from the Ontario College of Agriculture. Leasing 10,000 acres of land east of Calgary, Nagatani brought a number of Japanese farmers to work the land. With difficulty in adapting their farming techniques to Alberta's climate, many left the settlement for Calgary or the Pacific Coast. Some stayed and took work with other farmers, learning to farm in dry land conditions.

Fujiyama's Japanese Fancy Goods Japanese labour contractors brought nearly 1,000 workers to cultivate sugar beets and to build railroads and irrigation projects in southern Alberta. Many of these labourers sought to earn money to purchase farms back on their home islands, such as Kyushu, Honshu and Okinawa. The labour contractors would provide jobs, mail service and sometimes food, clothing and tools. These labourers faced the common prejudices of the day that all Asians faced. These prejudices were rationalized by a fear that Japanese workers would work for lower wages and undermine the livelihood of others. However, with a shortage of labour, workers of all ancestries, were in demand.

Christmas card As well, many of these labourers moved to regions where the climate was similar to their homeland. By 1911 only 244 Japanese were living in Alberta, many of these employed in coal mining around Lethbridge, where they affiliated with unions and received equitable wages. Others established farms around Raymond and operated small businesses in Calgary. By 1914, Japanese cultural societies had been formed in Calgary and Raymond, creating support and social opportunities and promoting better relations with the non-Japanese community.

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