On this day, December 15 – In memory of the Tani Family

I would like to tell you a story about a man named James Tani.

Mr Tani came to Canada at the age of nineteen. He was a fisherman and came like many others to fish the abundant Canadian west coast in Barkley Sound at Sechart.  His wife joined him in 1910 and they had a child named John a year later. In 1913 they had a girl named Mary.

Mr and Mrs Tani worked hard and by the 1920s were able to purchase a home in the still relatively new City of Port Alberni to accommodate their growing family.  It was near the bottom of Bute Street, perhaps it was a good spot there, close enough to the harbour to get to the fishboat. They eventually had four children in all, John, Mary, Don, and finally in 1923, William.

The children went to school and grew and started their own families. But in  1940 tragedy struck when Mrs Tani passed away at just 52 years of age. As if that and World War II were not enough, or perhaps because of all of it, that same year Don decided he would give up his job as a millwright and pursue his dream of working on airplanes.  He boarded a ship to Seattle and made his way to the now famous Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California. 

Working in the place where such legendary names like Glenn L. Martin, Donald Douglas, and another former west coast forestry worker, William Boeing all got their start must have been exciting. But it was war time and as happens all too often in war, tragedy struck again.

On December 7th, 1942 Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. America officially entered the war that day and it changed the Tani’s lives forever.

James Hatasaburo Tani, his late wife Shigeno, and his children, Canao (John), Kikuye (Mary), Yasuo (Don) and William were Japanese-Canadian.

On this day 76 years ago, December 15, 1942 records from the Alberni Valley Museum show three entries on the land title of that house on Bute Street. It is very likely those entries are when Mr Tani lost possession of the family home and all of their other possessions and he and his family were ordered to internment camps and beet farms away from the coast to spend the rest of the War.

It is not clear if Yasuo (Don) Tani joined his family in Canada or went to a camp in the United States, or perhaps avoided internment completely due to  his work in California, but one thing is certain: The family never returned to Port Alberni to live. 

During the war and afterward, as is marked on the commemoration at the Greenwood Cemetary, the graves of Japanese-Canadians were neglected and forgotten including the grave of Mrs. Tani. Her name appears on the commemorative stone at the cemetary installed there in 1992.

The Japanese Canadian Memorial at Greenwood Cemetery. The Full inscription of this memorial is reproduced at the end of this article.
The names of individuals buried in unmarked sites at Greenwood Cemetery – Note Mrs. Tani does not have her first name included.

This is just one story of one family I happened to find one day. I dug a little deeper thanks to an ancestry.ca account and the amazing people at the Alberni Valley Museum and uncovered what I thought was a pretty amazing, and compelling, story.

So on this day of December 15, the day the Tani family and so many others in Port Alberni and all over the West Coast of Canada and the USA lost everything, I will pause to remember that grave injustice.

In particular I will remember Mrs. Shigeno Tani who is buried somewhere at Greenwood Cemetery in Port Alberni. Her final resting place may have been forgotten and lost but her and her family are not.  May she Rest in Peace.

Image from Alberni Valley Museum:
“A group of school children pose in costumes in front of what appears to be a raised stage in a hall. Most of the children are seated in chairs. Written on back: “[…] 8th Ave School Masquerade. / Oct. 31/23 / taken in Anglican / church hall. / from Dorrit Macleod / ? Warner / ? LeBlanc / Arlee woods / Jeanette ? / Tani (Japanese) / Rene Paul / Kate Manning / Erica Moseley / Richard Washburn / Laura Hiquebrant / Earle Manning […]”. – October 31, 1923 – 

Original Image Available here.

Information about the family found through Canada Census (1911 and 1921) records, immigration records (Canada and USA), grave records, other historical records, and the Alberni Valley Museum.

The Inscription on the Monument reads:

Japanese Canadian
Memorial Monument Committee.

This monument is erected in memory of the Japanese Canadians interred in this cemetery.

In 1942, under the guise of national security, the Canadian government enacted the War Measures Act and forcibly removed people of Japanese descent form the protected zone of the pacific coast and did not allow their return to this area until April 12, 1949.

During their absence grace sites were neglected and the painted wooden posts, common used to identify and mark the graves of Japanese Canadians rotted and were removed as they eroded, due to the loss of records, Japanese Canadian graves became unmarried.

Erected By: Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation
B.C. Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Church Federation 
Families of the Deceased, Concerned Individuals and Groups
Japanese-Canadian Memorial Monument Committee

August 7, 1992