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Gabriola locations among Heritage BC’s newly designated Japanese-Canadian historic sites.
On April 01, 2017, BC Minister for Multiculturalism Teresa Wat announced a list of 56 historic sites with significance to Canadians of Japanese descent. They include two locations in Silva Bay – the Sunrise Sawmill and Koyama’s Fishcamp. The 56 sites were selected from more than 176 province-wide places nominated last year as part of Heritage BC’s Japanese-Canadian Historic Places Project.
The background research on Gabriola’s sites is detailed below.
The Japanese of Silva Bay, Gabriola Island BC
Research by Ivan Bulic for Gabriola Historical and Museum Society (August 2016)
Japanese began immigrating to BC in significant numbers at the end of the 19th century. Most settled in Vancouver and Steveston where they worked in the fishing industry or operated small businesses.
But they also lived in smaller Japanese communities on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, including Silva Bay on the Southeast shore of Gabriola Island. As far as we are aware, Japanese lived on Gabriola and adjoining Mudge Island from before 1914 until 1942.
The impact of Japanese settlers and businesses on Gabriola Island’s social and economic development in the early 20th century was significant and remains today in the form of successor businesses.
1911 Canada Census:
The earliest record of Japanese persons living on Gabriola Island is found in the 1911 Census of Canada which lists eight Japanese residents on South Gabriola: K. Manakora age 34, K. Shimada age 30, and T. Haseguwa age 21, with occupations given as loggers.
Fukurama age 44, S. Shimuza age 34, K. Tsumi age 32, D. Yada age 32 and G. Hayanaka age 37, are listed as “fishermen” employed at the “cannery.”
An early Gabriola settler remembered the Japanese as arriving to before 1914 and living in Silva Bay, and on nearby Valdes Island, where they worked as fishers. The eight Japanese residents listed in the 1911 Census do not re-appear in subsequent records, nor are they listed in the 1921 Census. We do not know how long they continued to live on Gabriola after 1911, or where they went after leaving the island.
Yoshimatsu Shinde and the Sunrise Lumber Company:
Yoshimatsu Shinde emigrated from the village of Mio-mura in Wakayama Prefecture to Steveston, BC sometime in the late 19th century.
According to Japanese historian Hisakazu Nishihama, the first Mio immigrant arrived in Steveston in 1888. Over the next two decades so many others followed that Mio immigrants made up the majority of Steveston’s Japanese-Canadian fishing community. As late as 1940, over 2,000 immigrants from Mio and their descendants still lived in the Steveston area.
In Steveston, Shinde married, had two sons, Kichitaro and Yoshiharu, and fished until 1912 when he opened a grocery and general store. The successful business was destroyed in the Great Steveston Fire of 1918.
Sunrise Lumber Co., South Gabriola, BC, established in 1919.
Y Shinde President & Manager.
K. Shinde Sales manager.
Manufacturers of Fir Cedar Spruce Hemlock; Finish Lumber, Dimensions (2X4s), Ties, Boxes.
Daily production capacity 15,000 board feet.
A capacity of 15,000 board feet indicates a smaller mill, as large industrial mills of the time produced about 200,000 board feet a day.
At that time Yoshimatsu Shinde’s younger son, 19-year-old Canadian born Yoshiharu, was attending business school in Osaka. Presumably after the destruction of the mill there was no longer money to keep him in school, and the young Yoshiharu returned to Steveston where he and his father went back to fishing until 1942 when their boats were seized by the Canadian government and they were removed to internment camps.
We have few records on the fate of Yoshimatsu Shinde. We do know that both his sons died in 1986, Yoshiharu in Nanaimo, and Kitchitaru in Grand Forks, BC.
1921 Canada Census:
The 1921 Census shows five Japanese residents of South Gabriola. They are listed as:
- K. Shinde, age 62, arrival in Canada 1918, Japanese national, occupation bookkeeper, religion Buddhist;
- T. Matsumaga, age 37, arrival in Canada 1900, naturalized Canadian 1906, religion Christian,
- M. Shinde, age 42, arrival in Canada 1896, naturalized Canadian 1900, occupation mill worker, religion Christian;
- M. Shinde, age 36, arrival in Canada 1910, occupation housekeeper, religion Christian;
- E. Imede, age 50, arrival in Canada 1900, occupation “boarder,” religion Buddhist.
- Harada, age 38, occupation farmer, arrival in Canada1906;
- Taka Harada, age 33, housekeeper, arrival in Canada 1915;
- Shigura Harada, age 6, nationality Canadian;
- Takashi, Harada, age 3, nationality Canadian.
Koyama’s Store and Fishcamp:
The Gabriola Directory for 1934 lists Kanshiro Koyama as operating a general store and fish-buying wharf on the southwest shore of Silva Bay. Long time Gabriolans recall that Koyama ran the operation with his brother and their families, though we have no records of individual names or family make-up. Another brother, Frank Koyama, ran a seafood company at Brechin Point in Nanaimo that supplied local restaurants.
Koyama’s Silva Bay fish camp, including the store and living quarters, was on floats. The floating dwelling was 16 by 24 ft, and constructed of dark shiplap, with a cedar shingle roof and a heavy wall paper interior. It was a plain living space, furnished with the bare essentials – beds, stove, table and chairs, storage shelves – without running water or plumbing.
The store was a separate building, 20 by 24 ft. The inventory included a bit of everything: canned goods, tobacco, soft drinks, candy, some bakery items, household cleaners, a few bits and pieces of hardware, lamp mantles, wicks, candles, kerosene, naphtha, motor oils … the necessities. A pot-bellied wood stove heated the store in chilly weather.
Today little remains of the original floats and structures built by the Koyamas, but the business is thriving as Pages marina and resort in the same location and basic outline as when first developed by the Koyamas in the 1930s.
Canada Census – 1911.
Canada Census – 1921.
CanWest News Service, A piece of Canadiana in rural Japan, April 30, 2009.
Fukawa, Masako, Nikkei Fishermen of the BC Coast, Harbour Publishing, 2007.
———————, Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet, Harbour Publishing, 2009.
Imredy, Peggy Lewis (ed), Gabriola Island, paper given at Gabriola Three Schools Reunion, Silva Bay Resort, Gabriola Island, Aug 04, 1984.
Lewis -Harrison, The People of Gabriola, Gabriola Island, 1982.
Nikka Jiho Sha, Kanada Zairyo Doho Soran: Biography of Sawmill Company President -Yoshimatsu Shinde, Edited by Yoshio Matsue, 1920.
Reeve, Phyllis, “Japanese-Canadians in Silva Bay, 1918-42,” in SHALE No. 25, Mar 2011, (Journal of the Gabriola Historical and Museum Society) ISSN 1492-6946.