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The Japanese Settlers

Japanese in sugar-beet field in southern Alberta, ca. 1941-1945. Japanese immigration to Alberta took place under different circumstances than that of European settlement. The early Japanese presence was generally a mobile, labour population - workers who had come to Alberta to earn enough money to buy farms back home in Japan. This Japanese labour force was made up of younger sons who therefore could not inherit the family farm in Japan, which was customarily passed on only to the eldest son. Many came to Canada with the help of labour contractors who would arrange a job and lodgings in advance; others came on their own with little or no idea of their final destination.

These early Japanese labourers worked very cheaply, often finding jobs in the sugar beet industry, or constructing irrigation and railroad systems. While many of these early Japanese workers stayed only briefly in Alberta, tending to settle on the Pacific coast where the climate was more familiar, some chose to remain in Alberta, settling primarily in the south, setting up farms near Raymond or working in the Hardieville coalmines after 1908. A few families also ventured into the urban centres of Calgary and Edmonton, where they set up small businesses or worked in the service industry.

Unfortunately, white European Albertans who generally thought all Asians to be racially inferior did not readily accept Japanese immigrants. Prejudice against the Japanese immigrants was most fierce within the unions because it was widely believed that the Japanese labourers, who worked on the whole for lesser wages, were depressing the wages for all workers and taking jobs from the European immigrants and citizens. The number of Japanese immigrants in Alberta remained relatively small, however, until the outbreak of World War One in 1914, an event that marked the arrival of greater numbers of Japanese, especially Japanese women.

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  • Buddhist Christmas Tree - Japanese people in Alberta have their own rituals and celebrations at the end of December. Listen, and be enlightened!
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  • Cemetery Day in Raymond - Cemetery Day is celebrated in a certain Alberta town each summer. Hear about the cultural history of this day, and which town continues to celebrate it!
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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.