(Vancouver, BC, November 13, 2019) Parks Canada announced at a media event this morning that the Vancouver Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall, located in historic Japantown, is now designated as a National Historic Site. The Japanese Hall, built in 1928, joins three National Historic Sites in Metro Vancouver: Stanley Park, Lions Gate Bridge and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery (in Steveston).
Invited guests, including MP Jenny Kwan, MLA Melanie Mark, Councillor Lisa Dominato (City of Vancouver), Takashi Hatori (Consul General of Japan) and pre-war senior alumni (Dr. Aki Horii, Mary Kawamoto) unveiled a reproduction Parks Canada plaque. A permanent metal plaque (written in English, French and Japanese) will be installed on the building in 2020.
“The Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall is a living symbol of a piece of national history that no Canadian should forget,” said Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East during her speech. “Designating VJLS-JH honours the resilience of the Japanese Canadian community and the school’s unrelenting commitment to service, culture and heritage.”
Founded in 1906 as a language school, an earlier wood-framed building became the first and largest of the 50 schools operating before the Second World War. In 1928, the Japanese Hall, designed by Sharp and Thompson Architects (which designed landmarks such as the UBC Point Grey Campus and Burrard Street Bridge), was built to expand the school and become a community centre.
Against all odds, despite dispossession of all Japanese Canadians during their Internment in BC’s Interior between 1942 and 1949, community leaders fought to prevent the property’s sale, restored ownership in 1952 and reopened the Hall (and the language school) in 1953. One of the only properties returned to any Japanese Canadian, the Hall remains a powerful symbol of community strength and resilience.
“We are humbled and grateful for this opportunity to carry on our 113-year history,” said Deb Saimoto, VJLS-JH Board Chair. “Together, we will not only continue this legacy, but will transform it into an everlasting vision where we foster intercultural connection through education and guided stewardship.”
The building continues to operate as a community and education hub today, representing the diversity of the surrounding area. To reflect its evolving role as a centre for multicultural education, culture and community programs, VJLS-JH built a new five-storey wing adjoining the 1928 building in 2000.
Laura Saimoto, Community Relations Committee Chair
Messages of Congratulations:
“I’m thrilled to see the federal government recognize the historical legacy of the Japanese Hall and community by naming it a National Heritage Site.” said Councillor Dominato. “Japantown was a thriving neighbourhood and the school was the centre of community life. Today’s historical designation honours the rich history, contributions and resilience of the Japanese-Canadian community that was forced out during World War II, and worked hard to rebuild its identity and pride post-war.”
- Lisa Dominato, Councillor, City of Vancouver
“There is very little physical evidence of a once thriving Japanese-Canadian community in Vancouver’s Powell Street neighbourhood due to historical racism and bureaucratic violence perpetuated on Japanese Canadians through the 1940s. Despite complexities of the past, the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall has remained a testament to the community’s resilience, resistance, and resonance. We congratulate them for achieving national historical significance and trust it will remain a cultural beacon for years to come.”
- Sherri Kajiwara, Director Curator, Nikkei National Museum
“Congratulations to the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall in receiving recognition as a National Historical Site! Located in the Downtown Eastside, VJLS-JH’s rich and unique history is a testament to community resilience and to unwavering commitment to culture and heritage. For over 100 years, it has served Vancouver’s Japanese Canadian and local communities as a community-based educational, social, and cultural centre. This designation is a stepping-stone towards having historic Japantown recognized as a Historic District by the Federal Government and I wish everyone continued success in this greater vision.”
- Santa J. Ono, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of British Columbia
“A National Historic Site! I cannot imagine a more deserving institution. The uprooting and dispossession of Japanese Canadians from their homes erased decades of community-building. The determination of your school Board, in the 1940s, to resist that injustice was a testament to their strength. And when I see the thriving institution that has been built in generations since, I’m humbled by the accomplishment and energy of your community. It is an honour to be associated with your school as we work to preserve history and to build a more just future. Congratulations!”
- Jordan Stanger-Ross, Associate Professor, History Project Director, Landscapes of Injustice, University of Victoria
“Vancouver Heritage Foundation congratulates the Vancouver Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall on designation as a National Historic Site. This place has great significance through more than a century at the heart of Vancouver’s Japanese Canadian community and historic district. It highlights the story of perseverance and resilience of the community and the contribution of Japanese Canadians to Canada’s story. It connects current and past generations through ongoing efforts to maintain and celebrate community heritage including language, storytelling, food and cultural traditions. We commend the VJLS-JH on their stewardship of the site and their work to share and build on its legacy for the future.”
- Judith Mosley, Executive Director, Vancouver Heritage Foundation
“The Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall’s presence, activity and contribution to our community is not only a symbol of resistance and courage, it strikes at the very heart of Strathcona’s identity, then and now. We celebrate this momentous occasion with the Hall’s board, staff and community who will continue to steward its mission and vision into the future.”
- Theo Lamb, Executive Director, Strathcona Business Improvement Association