By Laura Saimoto, Community Relations Committee

In 2012, we completed the heritage rehabilitation of our 1928 Heritage Building which we designed for childcare.  We launched Children’s World Childcare Centre, a licensed childcare facility with daycare, and Japanese immersion preschool and toddlers programs.   Today, 8 years later, our centre has 135 children under age 6 years operating in Historic Powell Street in the heart of the Downtown Eastside.  

As a new childcare provider, we researched other childcare facilities and infused childcare practices in Japan, integrating the best of Canada and Japan in our beautiful heritage building.   One of the most treasured heritage features of our building is the second floor fir floors, which are the original 1928 tongue and groove floors.   When we gutted the building, we pulled up about 4 layers of linoleum and carpeting before we reached the original floors and with careful restoration, were able to restore them.  I can picture the thousands of children who ran on these floors just as I did, racing down the bannisters at recess to see who reached the ground floor first!

As Vancouver’s new National Historic Site, we have done a deep dive into the history of the neighbourhood.  As we did so, a lightbulb went on in my head:   what did families do for childcare???  After interviewing senior alumni about their lives as children growing up in the area and attending the school everyday after public school, I realized a few things:   many Japanese Canadian women, like my grandmother for example, worked in a family business or were super busy having babies and raising large families like my father’s family, who had 9 siblings.  

My grandmother was a skilled seamstress who worked with my grandfather at their dry-cleaning shop on Main St..  Or in the case of Mary Kawamoto, one of our senior alumni, whose family owned Victory Rooms, a rooming house on Powell St., the entire family, her dad, mom and Mary and her younger brother, helped to run the rooming house business, cleaning, cooking, running the front desk, keeping the furnace fuelled with coal and doing the books.

The second thing I realized is that childcare for toddlers was actually provided by Christian churches who offered preschool in the children’s second language, which was English.  Kid’s first language was Japanese, which was spoken at home.  They then walked their children to the United Methodist Church kindergarten (Powell & Jackson)  for example, which introduced children to their second language:  English.   In particular, the United and Catholic Churches preschools and kindergartens were what we would call in modern terms, English immersion childcare.   

Once children reached grade school age, they attended the nearest public school, like Lord Strathcona Elementary.  600 of the 1200 students in 1941 were Japanese Canadian children.  There, they learned formal English.  After school, everyday, from Mon to Fri, the children then walked over to Japanese School to learn Japanese.  In modern day terms, we could call it, Japanese immersion after school care.  Then the students after two immersion programs during the day, would play or walk home for dinner.   So in effect, childcare and after school care were language immersion programs.  

In today’s modern world, childcare seems like a fairly modern social need with ‘gender equity’ and most moms working outside the home.  According to the City of Vancouver’s 2019 licensed childcare stats, for ages 0-4 years, the city has 5476 licensed spaces, whereas the need is actually 13,134 (covers 42%). It’s a shortfall of 7600 spaces.  Childcare, while it had a different name prior to World War II was in actual fact immersion language programs serving as de facto childcare for hardworking immigrant parents.  Food for thought when something old changes its name and becomes new again!

What’s coming up?

Adult Spring Term start dates:

Tues, Apr 7   Adult Intermediate & upper levels 

Thurs Apr 9   Beginners

Contact T. Bailey, Continuing Education:   tbailey@vjls-jh.com.