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Golden Miles of History

The Bridge River Japanese Canadian World War II Interment Camp Site

"The strange wilderness and the majestic beauty of the Coast Mountains that surrounded our small lakeside community was overwhelming. Even the silence of nature was hard to get used to."

- Alan Fujiwara, Hiro, Nikkei National Museum Publication

In 1926, the B.C. Electric Company built the Bridge River Townsite to house workers for the Bridge River Power Project. In 1932, the project was postponed and workers abandoned its frame houses, hotel, community hall, hospital, gymnasium and tennis court with only a maintenance crew left behind.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, their military also laid siege to Hong Kong where 2000 Canadian soldiers were stationed. Canada declared war on Imperial Japan and decades of prejudice against Japanese Canadians culminated in naming them "enemy aliens" and confiscating their fishing boats, automobiles, cameras and radios. A 100 mile "security zone" was delineated along the west coast from which everyone of Japanese origin was forcibly removed. Families of some means negotiated to stay together. Properties, businesses and possessions entrusted to the Custodian of Enemy Property were sold without owners' consent. The Bridge River Townsite became one of the "self-supporting" internment locations.

Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki was sent to Bridge River to look after the medical needs of its 270 internees. Along with a dentist Dr. Fujiwara and his family, the Miyazakis moved into the hospital building and their practices soon expanded to the local community. When Lillooet’s only doctor died, the town petitioned to have Dr. Miyazaki move there. To learn more about this wonderful man, visit Miyazaki House in Lillooet. With electricity and indoor plumbing, the Bridge River Townsite was one of the more comfortable internment locations, but for Japanese Canadians, the war did not end in 1945; racist policies prevented their return to the west coast until 1949. Rationalizing that their concentration on the west coast caused widespread anti-Japanese sentiment, the Canadian government coerced them into dispersing across Canada or being deported to Japan.

Demoralized by years of incarceration and the loss of their previous lives, businesses and properties, approximately 4,000 out of 21,000 Interned Japanese Canadians left Canada for Japan in 1946, while others went east of the Rockies and focused on rebuilding their livelihood in a new environment.

In the late 1970s, declassified documents revealed that the destruction of the Japanese Canadian community was purely a political measure; they were not considered to be a security threat by top military or police authorities. While Japanese Americans were similarly removed from the west coast and incarcerated, unlike in Canada, restrictions against them were eased off early in 1945.

In 1986, chartered accountants, Price Waterhouse Vancouver office, estimated that the loss to the Japanese Canadian community as the result of their uprooting amounted to over $400 million. In 1988, the Redress Settlement offered individual and community compensation in the amount well over $300 million.

During the internment, Dr. Fujiwara and his son Alan built this miniature castle seen here on the landscaped area near by their home which is now the Bridge River Public Library. In 2011, the Bridge River Townsite was completely rebuilt, but this castle remains as a concrete reminder that equality among the races needs continuous advocacy and safeguarding.

To learn more about Japanese Canadian Internment in the Lillooet area, visit the Lillooet Museum/Info Centre & Miyazaki House in downtown Lillooet, the East Lillooet Internment Camp Site on Highway 12 and the Minto Internment Camp Site at Gun Creek Campground or go to www.nikkeimuseum.org