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Japanese Settlers in Raymond

Working for the Family

A young married couple came from Fukushima, Japan and settled in Raymond. They were among the very early settlers to come to southern Alberta in search of a better life. After living in a two-room shanty for some time, they were able in 1920 to buy an 18-acre piece of land from William Knight, second son of the founder of Raymond. Using the lumber he had accumulated from the garbage dump, he was able to build a small two-room house. An old discarded shed from the sugar factory was hauled in and attached to the house. When renovations were complete, there were two bedrooms and a kitchen. The family was now proud owners of a piece of property they could call their own. One day he came home with a big black horse to help him farm, given to him by Raymond Knight, for whom the town was named. They called the horse "Doti" and with the purchase of a single horse plow, two sections of small square harrows and a harness, work began on their land.

They now had eight children and life appeared to be rosy until tragedy took the mother while she was giving birth to a tiny premature baby girl. The baby survived and when she was eight months old was adopted by a Japanese couple who returned to Japan where they raised their little girl.

One more early Japanese pioneer left Japan and, after a brief stay in Hawaii, came to Canada in 1907. After three years working on the railroad at Fernie, B.C. and as far east as Taber, he came to Lethbridge to become a cook at a large hotel, where he was able to study English at night.

In 1913 his bride joined him in Canada. After owning and operating a local restaurant in Raymond for some years he bought 40 acres of farmland in order to grow vegetables for his business. By 1915 the farm was doing so well that he sold the restaurant to devote full time to farming. 1916 turned out to be a year that old-timers talked about for decades. Rain was plentiful and a bumper crop of potatoes was on the way. A pit was dug along the road to store his potatoes. He harvested his crop and put them in the pit, covering them with stray and a bit of soil. The harvest was completed on September 30, just before the wind shifted from northwest to east. Snow fell on October 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and the temperature dropped to 4 degrees Fahrenheit on October 4th. But his potatoes were safe in his makeshift storage. When the weather moderated he sold them for $100 a ton, an unheard of price for potatoes up to that time.

In "Japanese Farmers in Canada," published in 1929, it is recorded that in 1917 he owned a farm with six cows, four horses, a full line of machinery and a house. It is also recorded he attributed half of his success to his wife who worked along side him on the farm. In a later book it was recorded that he raised 7,500 bushels wheat, 1,000 bushels oats, 150 tons of sugar beets, 100 pigs, 100 chickens, 6 milk cows and 100 sheep. A success story from early southern Alberta in one year.

A young man, born in 1896, a few miles from Tokyo came to America. His journey was on a 11,500 ton British ship, on board which there were 136 Japanese males, 31 Japanese females and twelve Chinese. There were also five Japanese stowaways. He landed in Victoria in November 1907 and took a cram course in English at Yoshizawa Kyokai. There was no work for him locally so he cut logs for a mill at Haney until it closed. The Knight Sugar Company in Raymond was looking for workers and on 8 May 1908 he and 72 other Japanese people boarded a train for Raymond. They arrived on May 18 and the next day were divided into three camps. For the next few years they were employed as sugar beet workers. When the Company closed in 1913 four sections of land came up for lease to those who wished to farm in the Raymond area. He was one of the ten people who decided to stay and paid $25 an acre for the land. The use of machinery and horses were provided, all of which he could pay for when he had the means.

After many hard years his wife came to Canada in 1917 as his "picture bride" and they raised their nine children on their homestead, located ten kilometers from Raymond. It was said, "These pioneers had foresight, courage, tenacity and enthusiasm, and we salute them. Enduring and surmounting innumerable obstacles, they opened the virgin lands of Alberta and left a proud legacy for following generations. We are fortunate that they chose to settle in this great country - the best place in the world to live. Our generation is the one spanning 'horse and buggy era' to the space age. "We must strive to remember the lessons of the past even as we look to the future."

Excerpts courtesy of Evelyn Hendry from the Raymond Museum and Archives.

See also:

[back] [First People and Settlers] [New Beginnings] [Adventurous Albertans]

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