Forgotten injustice against BC’s Japanese community revealed in Vancouver Maritime Museum exhibition The Lost Fleet

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The Vancouver Maritime Museum proudly announces its world premiere exhibition The Lost Fleet, on display March 24, 2017 – March 25, 2018. On December 7, 1941 the world was shocked when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, launching the United States into the war. This action also resulted in the confiscation of nearly 1,200 Japanese-Canadian owned fishing boats by Canadian officials on the British Columbia coast, which were eventually sold off to canneries and other non-Japanese fishermen. The Lost Fleet looks at the world of the Japanese-Canadian fishermen in BC and how deep-seated racism played a major role in the seizure, and sale, of Japanese-Canadian property and the internment of an entire people.

“The history of Japanese-Canadian fishermen is inextricably linked to the history of Vancouver. The city was a gateway in the Pacific for all immigrants looking to forge a brighter future for themselves,” says Duncan MacLeod, Maritime Museum Curator. “The seizure of Japanese-Canadian fishing boats in BC had been on a list of important topics we were considering for an exhibition. The process of deciding on an exhibition took place during the rising crisis in Syria, and the contemporary discussions of an influx of non-white immigrants bore a strong resemblance to the rhetoric used when speaking about the Japanese and other Asian immigrants in the 20th century prior to WWII.”

This unique exhibition will showcase a series of photographs as well as several models of Japanese-Canadian-built fishing vessels in its collection, made by the late model shipbuilder, Doug Allen. The beautifully crafted models replicate some of the fishing boats seized during the war that have since been lost to history. Visitors will see replicas of the registry created in order to redistribute the seized boats. The display will also include shell fragment from Estevan Point lighthouse. In June 1942, a Japanese Imperial submarine fired shells at the lighthouse, just shortly after it had attacked a US merchant vessel in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This artifact highlights the little known fact that enemy fire did land on Canadian soil during WWII, and adds a level of reality to the threat that was feared by many in BC.

The legacy of this tragic event will also be explored: what lessons have been learned and how Canadian society has changed because of this experience? Visitors will be encouraged to consider whether the present political and economic climate is very different today; current legislation, policies and public sentiment about immigration invites the question of whether this type of injustice could be carried out against other groups.

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