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Golden Miles of History

The Minto Japanese Canadian World War II Interment Camp Site

In 1992, fifty years after the Japanese Canadian internment, a camp survivor wrote of their existence in Minto, "There always seemed to be a spirit of cooperation to overcome any obstacle, and persevere through another day". This, then, is their story.

Located in the traditional territory of the St'at'imc People, the former township of Minto was established in 1934 by Warren "Big Bill" Davidson. Planned as a model mining community with houses for 300, a hotel, post office, and stores, its success yielded one million dollars in gold. Mined out by '42, things shut down, and the townsite was abandoned by the residents.

Meanwhile, in December of 1941, Canada had joined the war against Japan and began enforcing a newly-implemented "security zone" which entailed removal of all Japanese Canadians within 100 miles of the west coast. Families with some assets negotiated to stay together by relocating to the now-abandoned town of Minto. This was a drastic change for urban dwellers to live in such a remote mountain locale, however, due to residents' hard work and resiliency, Minto became one of the many "self- supporting" internment locations. Amid some local opposition, around 25 Japanese-Canadian families moved into the empty houses while their former homes in various locations were auctioned off cheaply by the Canadian government.

Former thriving coastal communities of Japanese Canadians disappeared almost overnight. Vancouver alone had a population of 9,000 Japanese-Canadians in 1941. Families in Minto came from the Powell Street area (the largest Japanese-Canadian community near the south shore of Burrard Inlet), Kitsilano, Grandview, Marpole in Vancouver, and Steveston, Prince Rupert, Chemainus and Cumberland.

At its peak, the Japanese-Canadian population in Minto reached 325. They lived on pre-war savings, and supplemented their income with jobs in trucking, logging, and the sawmill industry. Minto's gravel-flats blossomed with gardens that supplied produce to the nearby towns of Gold Bridge and Bralorne. The traditional name of "Skumakum", or "Land of Plenty" was realized. With both electricity and indoor plumbing, Minto was considered one of the more adequate internment locations. Survivor Bob Nimi was ten years old at the time of the expulsion, and remembers swimming, skating, skiing, hiking, and enjoying his schooling. He recalls, "Throughout their lives here, my parents never complained or felt bitterness, and despite all that had happened, they always saw and appreciated the opportunities Canada presented". He valued their philosophy that "keeping a positive outlook is a great rule to follow. It changes things for the better and makes good things happen".

Japanese Canadians continued to have their movements restricted for the next 4 years following the end the Second World War and in 1949, they were finally allowed to return to the coast. In 1950, Gun Creek flooded the town of Minto. With the completion of the Bridge River Power Project in 1958, the waters of Carpenter Lake swallowed Skumakum and the township of Minto. Vanished into history, it remains only in the memories of the survivors and their families and you, the visitor who now knows the story.

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