On Thursday night, I had dinner with my publisher to celebrate that my memoir The Reading List is now in print. We toasted and reminisced about the past year we’ve spent working together and schemed about how to make the book launch a fun event. (It will be at the Japan Foundation mid-February – details soon to follow – you are all invited!) She gave me my author’s copies, some of which I’ll raffle off on my blog in January. The books are now perched on a shelf near my desk to give me inspiration as I immerse myself in writing my second book….
Speaking of which, I was very excited to receive a package in the mail last week. I’d been eagerly awaiting it for some time, this package from the Kootenay Lake Historical Society. It’s an archive that I stumbled upon on-line when googling “Kaslo, BC,” the site of a Japanese-Canadian Internment camp during the Second World War. My great grandfather, Kozo Shimotakahara, was the doctor assigned to provide medical services at the camp and he has long captured my imagination; one of the characters in the historical novel I’m currently writing is loosely inspired by Kozo and he also has a cameo in my memoir. So when I discovered that the Kootenay Lake Historical Society has volunteer archivists who could send me old photographs and newspaper articles, I jumped at the chance – even for just a first taste. One day in the not too distant future I would love to visit Kaslo and wander through Kozo’s hospital and get my fingers dusty perusing the archive myself….
I feel as though doing historical research is a bit like wandering through an antique/junk shop, where you never can predict what you might find and suddenly desire. The set of pictures and clippings I received in the mail contain such a range of ingredients, most of which I have no idea how they could fit into my novel. If at all. Nevertheless, these facts and images beckon to me and maybe it’s not a bad thing if I just let them tease my brain for months or years to come and let them half-consciously work their way into a future novel, perhaps. For instance, I found my eyes lingering on an article written in The New Canadian about Kozo’s trailblazing efforts to treat tuberculosis, which had reached near epidemic levels in the Japanese-Canadian community before the war. The prevalence was six times that of the normal population, largely because the Japanese farming folk in BC were ill-informed about prevention measures, didn’t speak English and were distrustful of doctors. All too aware of this problem, in 1930, Kozo joined forces with a certain reverend to start a tuberculosis clinic that he staffed by lobbying to have “one Japanese girl” accepted into the nurse training program at Vancouver General Hospital (I wonder who she was and what was her story?). They even managed to have an X-ray machine donated and sent over from Japan. “Every Japanese doctor cooperated to the utmost, but among them Dr. K. Shimotakahara, a pioneer medical men, did much to aid in the important steps against tuberculosis,” writes the author of the article. Those must have been heady days, when the community was in its infancy, and I can only imagine what Kozo must have felt being at the centre of it all.
But then the war broke out and the Japanese became seen as traitors overnight, ushering in darker days…. I wonder what became of the clinic or whether it was ever revived after the war. Probably not, since the Japanese-Canadian community was forcibly dispersed and assimilated in the post-war years. The clinic had likely outlived its purpose … a fascinating blip, a glorious footnote, swallowed up by history.
Photos courtesy of Kootenay Lake Historical Society