Japanese Canadians on Harris Ranch

by Cole Harris

I began the following account for my family, intending that it, among other short writings, would give them a fuller sense of what my grandfather rather grandly called the Bosun (or Harris) Ranch, a mountainside farm above the highway between New Denver and Silverton, B.C. In the now almost 120 years since he acquired land and established this unlikely farm, the few years when Japanese Canadians were interned there have been one of its most distinctive moments. I was in no position to write on the internees themselves, but thought that I could write on the relationship of an English Canadian family with them and, more generally, with East Asia. That account has grown to the point where it has become something more than a typical family memoir, yet considerably less than a thorough account of the relationship of the relocated Japanese Canadians in and near New Denver with the area’s prior inhabitants. Nevertheless, I publish it in this booklet series with the hope that it may contain enough for those with either interest, and may encourage someone else to undertake a fuller study of the relationship of the Japanese Canadians in New Denver during World War II with the area’s prior community.

It is important to remember that this is a local study focused on the Harris Ranch and, to a lesser extent, on the camps in and around New Denver. It does not claim to be representative. Angler, surrounded by barbed wire and machine guns north of Lake Superior, was a very different place. So, I suspect, were camps like Tashme and Lemon Creek where prior settlers were virtually absent. On Harris Ranch and in New Denver, Japanese Canadians lived beside well-established populations, as they did in Kaslo and Greenwood—places where the relationships between the prior community and the Japanese Canadians may have resembled those in New Denver.

The war years considered here were brief but the Japanese Canadian presence in New Denver, anchored for many years by the sanatorium, has continued to the present. As those who had lived in the camps during the war aged and died, others have tended their memory. Few of Japanese ancestry now maintain the Kohan Memorial Garden; the Village of New Denver is responsible for the Nikkei Museum. Such affection stretches well back in time, perhaps even to the difficult years of WW II.

I could not have written what follows without a great deal of help. English cousins, Walford Gillison and Frances Clemmow, provided information about members of the Harris family’s missionary work in China and internment there during WW II. Momoko Ito, manager of the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver, made the museum’s collections available to me and offered important early advice. Frank Moritsugu, journalist and author of a book on Japanese teachers in the camps, alerted me to my grandfather’s writings on the Japanese Canadians in the British Columbia Archives. Gordon Butt permitted me to use the photo collection in New Denver’s Silvery Slocan Museum. The following commented on drafts of the manuscript and provided essential advice: Slocan friends Tsuneko Kokubo, Paul Gibbons, and Taeko Miwa; academic friends Jordan Stanger-Ross, Peter Ward, and Peter Ennals; my son Douglas Harris and niece Ellen Pond; and, at the Nikkei National Museum, Beth Carter and Linda Reid. Eric Leinberger, cartographer, redrafted the Saito map. Art Joyce designed the booklet with efficiency and skill, and Anne Champagne did as much with the copy editing.

—Cole Harris, Vancouver, B.C.,
January 4, 2015

“Angler, surrounded by barbed wire and machine guns... was a very different place.”

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