Eikichi Kagetsu dined with royalty, built up a logging empire in British Columbia, employed hundreds of people and established himself as a leader in the Japanese Canadian community.
All that was taken away during the Second World War, when the federal government’s racist wartime policies against those of Japanese heritage saw Kagetsu dispossessed of his properties (to be sold off at a fraction of their worth) and sent to an internment camp.
His legacy, though, will live on after Kagetsu’s surviving family recently donated more than 90 kilograms of historical heirlooms, including photos, manuscripts and journal entries, to the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby.
The museum has partnered with University of Victoria researchers and theirLandscapes of Injustice project to preserve the family’s history, study the artifacts and share Kagetsu’s story with the public.
“In some ways, [Kagetsu’s] story is typical. But certainly it’s a powerful story that someone lost so much after he had accomplished so much,” said UVic historian Jordan Stanger-Ross, director of Landscapes of Injustice. “He would be one of the wealthiest Japanese Canadians at the time of the dispossession.”
Kagetsu’s Vancouver Island lumber and oyster businesses, along with his rail line, downtown Vancouver office, and homes in Kerrisdale and West Vancouver, valued at millions in today’s dollars, according to UVic.
The scale of loss raises questions about the long-lasting, multi-generational consequences of Canada’s policies, Stanger-Ross said.
Nikkei National Museum director-curator Sherri Kajiwara said Kagetsu’s family moved to Toronto after the war before eventually settling in North Carolina.
His late son, Jack, made it his life’s goal to collect archival information on his father and first arranged to donate the collection to the museum before his death in 2006.
Years later, his dream has become reality.
Kajiwara and research archivist Linda Kawamoto Reid returned from the family’s home in North Carolina with dozens of bankers’ boxes of historical documents and have begun the process of preserving and digitalizing the information.
“Jack had been very meticulous,” said Kajiwara. “I think it is the photographs that tell the biggest story. The family recognizes we are the one place where their story would be preserved and shared with the public.”
The seven-year Landscapes of Injustice public history project, which is one of the largest in Canada and involved 15 partner organizations, gives the museum access to scholars to analyze the collection, and those of other dispossessed Japanese Canadian residents at the time, Kajiwara said.
The artifacts will become part of a cross-country touring museum exhibit in 2021.