During the same week the B.C. government announced a $100-million redress package to recognize and repair some of the lasting harms perpetuated against Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, the city of Surrey honoured the legacy of a veteran who successfully fought back when he was forced off his land and relocated eighty years ago.
“He was very determined,” Rob Inouye said of his grandfather, Zennosuke Inouye.
“I mean most people would just give up.”
Zennosuke Inouye was born in Japan in 1884 and arrived in Canada in 1900.
As a new immigrant, Inouye volunteered to serve in the First World War, enlisting in Calgary after his grandson Barry Inouye said Vancouver rejected him because he was not white.
When Inouye returned home after being wounded in battle at Vimy Ridge, Barry said he purchased 32 hectares of land in 1919 through the Soldier Settlement Act near what is now 128 Street and 96 Avenue.
Inouye married Hatsuno Morikawa in 1920 and together they established a farm where they produced strawberries, raspberries, poultry, potatoes and grain for the next two decades.
The couple had five children and Inouye served as president of the Surrey Berry Growers’ Cooperative Association.
As the eldest grandson, Rob said he still remembers looking forward to his grandmother’s Japanese feasts as an eight-year-old in 1957, the year Inouye died.
Rob said he doesn’t have many memories of his grandfather, who never talked about his experience during the Second World War.
“In Japanese culture there’s a word called Gaman which means to endure, so anytime you have any painful experiences or feelings you have to hold them inside,” Rob explained.
Beginning in 1942, nearly 22,000 Japanese Canadians were forced into internment camps under the War Measures Act, stripped of their homes, belongings and businesses.
Inouye and his wife were removed from their farm property.
According to the Surrey Historical Society, Inouye ended up at Hastings Park, Morikawa and their two daughters were moved to Kaslo while their three sons were relocated to Vernon to work.
Inouye’s property was sold for use under the Veteran’s Land Act, the irony of which was not lost on him.
“(We) were very, very proud of our grandfather not only for his bravery in fighting for Canada at Vimy Ridge but also for his courage and determination in standing up to the government,” Rob told Global News.
When the Japanese Canadian First World War soldier’s land was designated for Second World War veterans, Inouye campaigned furiously to regain his farm, writing to his commanding officer, MP and the prime minister.
“It’s an incredible story of resilience,” Nikkei National Museum research archivist Linda Kawamoto Reid said.
Inouye’s letters are archived at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby.
“He wrote 80 letters in total,” Barry told Global News.
“In 1949, the Canadian government agreed with him and said this was unjust, we are going to give you your land back.”
As far as Inouye’s family knows, he is the only Japanese-Canadian veteran to have his property returned.
“He goes down in Japanese-Canadian history as the only man who got his land back during the internment or after the internment,” said Kawamoto Reid, who also serves as chair of the Japanese-Canadian War Memorial Committee.
On May 20, the city of Surrey officially named the 18-hectare park south of Inouye’s original farm after the veteran who confronted entrenched authority and won.
Inouye’s name is already on the Japanese-Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park and it’s hoped people walking through the nature preserve and greenway at 8985 Queen Mary Boulevard will learn the story behind the sign.
Inouye’s grandsons are grateful their grandfather’s legacy of determination and perseverance is being recognized beyond the Nikkei community.
“He had that warrior spirit to fight,” Kawamoto Reid said.
“For our family, he’s a real hero,” added Rob.