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11 January, 2010

SIMPLE B.C. FISHERMAN "HUCK" SUZUKI WORKED ON FARMS IN DRESDEN AREA

                                                                                                                         

Fishing boats owned by Japanese Canadians were seized by the government in 1942 and moored at Annisville Dyke on the Fraser River.  Below is a copy of  the British Columbia Security Commission notice which announced a policy of wholesale evacuation of Japanese Canadians from the so-called defense zone.

The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers in British Columbia, carried the obituary last week of Hachiro "Huck" Suzuki, referring to him as a fisherman's son who lived a simple life in a small float house on the Fraser River.  As is so often the case with obituaries, there was so much more to Huck's story.  To do this genuinely nice, simple man justice it is necessary to turn the calendar back 68 years.  A 20-year-old Huck and his older brother Deo, you see, were swept up in the greatest mass movement of humanity in the history of Canada -- the evacuation of Japanese Canadians, or Nikkei Kanadajin, from the Pacific Coast following the declaration of war on Japan in December, 1941.

The year was 1942 and by the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly 23,000 people of Japanese descent made their home in Canada, principally in British Columbia.  Three-quarters of that number were naturalized or native-born citizens working primarily in the forest industry or as fishermen and merchants.  Much of white British Columbia regarded the Nikkei with suspicion and hostility which escalated after the declaration of war.

Unquestionably influenced by Britain's fear of possible invasion, the cry to rid B.C. of the Japanese security threat was taken up by provincial and municipal governments and influential local newspapers.  Tensions mounted and early in 1942 the federal government bowed to West Coast pressure and began the relocation of Japanese nationals and Canadian citizens alike.  Male evacuees were sent to road camps in the B.C. interior, to sugar beet projects on the Prairies and in Ontario, or to internment in a POW camp in Ontario.  Women and children were moved to six inland B.C. towns created or revived to house the relocated populace.  The living conditions were so poor that citizens of wartime Japan even sent supplemental food shipments through the Red Cross.

So it was that the Suzuki boys found themselves in Southwestern Ontario working on farms in the Dresden area.  Calling on a work ethic instilled in them as a result of being raised by strict parents in a family of 13 children, Huck and Deo proved themselves to be conscientious farm hands, earning the respect of their employers who paid them a paltry average of $10.00 a month, after deductions.

It was not until 1949, four years after Japan had surrendered, that the majority of Nikkei were allowed to return to British Columbia.  By then, most had chosen to begin life anew elsewhere in Canada because their property had long before been confiscated and sold at a fraction of its worth.

Deo chose to remain in the Dawn Township area and established a home in the town of Florence.  He became a pillar of the community as post master and local historian, even serving as public address announcer for Florence Chicks softball games.

Huck, however, (seen in the above photo) returned to his commercial fishing roots on the coast of British Columbia in 1949 after the lifting of retention policy restrictions.  He married Clara Maeda on December 5, 1951 in Ladner, B.C. and lived most of his life on the banks of the Fraser River, bringing up three sons in a tiny float house.  He retired at the age of 76.

Friends knew Huck to be a quiet, kind and generous man.  In the obituary, Huck's sons stated:  "We grieve as we must, but there is peace in our hearts knowing our lives will never be the same, but better and so much richer for the gift our dad has given us.  We will carry his legacy of pure, radiant love now and forever more."

Hachiro "Huck" Susuki, 1921-2010, overcame injustice and discrimination to live a quiet, peaceful, loving life doing what his heart desired.  As with the age old story of another carpenter tuned fisherman, there are many lessons to be learned from the life and experiences of this humble Canadian citizen. 

Special thanks to old friend Bob Peters in Burnaby, B.C. for contributing to this item. 
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NOTE: In 1988, 111 years after the first Japanese entered Canada, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized to Japanese Canadians and authorized the provision of $21,000 to each of the survivors of dreadful wartime detention.  It doesn't hurt to review our history with all its warts and wrinkles from time to time.  LEST WE FORGET!
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