Tofino mayor Josie Osborne earned an emotional standing ovation inside the Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre on Tuesday when she formally apologized on behalf of the town’s council for a motion made in 1947 to “exclude Orientals” from the community.
“I’m speechless,” Mary Kimoto told the Westerly News outside the theatre. “It’s finally happened and I’m just speechless.”
Mary moved to the West Coast with her husband Tom in 1951. Tom had been a fisherman in Tofino when he was forcibly removed during Japanese-Canadian Internment in 1942. The family had intended to resettle in Tofino, but found too much tension against Japanese Canadians so they moved to Ucluelet instead.
“My father couldn’t come back to Clayoquot to resettle,” said Doug Kimoto, Mary and Tom’s son, who was 10 months old when the family returned to B.C.
“This is an apology for all the families that lived here years ago and reconciliation for the Japanese community,” Doug told the Westerly. “It’s righting a wrong that maybe should have been done years ago…It took a lot of will to do this. A lot of previous councils kind of swept it under the rug.”
The 1947 motion read, “The Commissioners of the Corporation of the Village of Tofino, hereby resolve-That at the request of the residents of the Village of Tofino, all orientals be excluded completely from this Municipality, and shall be prevented from owning property or carrying on business directly or indirectly within the Municipality.”
Tofino did not have a municipal council at the time and was led by commissioners. The motion was never formally passed but, Osborne noted, in 1949 the commissioners directed their clerk to look into “whether a bylaw could be made to exclude Orientals from buying or owning property within the municipality.”
She added that Tofino’s council rescinded the motion in 1997, but a formal apology was not made.
“Today, we are here to declare the District of Tofino Council takes full responsibility for its actions of 1947 and 1949 and we acknowledge that the words, actions and intentions of the past, both spoken and unspoken, caused harm and suffering,” she said. “We regret these and today we offer a formal and sincere apology to Japanese Canadians, all persons of Asian descent and to all others affected by our actions. We reject any exclusionary policy based on racial or ethnic origins and we make a solemn commitment that such injustices will never again be countenanced.”
Osborne added that the public apology should serve as a call to action.
“We call upon the witnesses here present to tell others about what you saw and heard today,” she said. “We call upon all present to embrace the shared responsibility to uphold the principles of human rights, justice and equality today and into the future. Let this event be a catalyst to increase public understanding and dialogue on how and why injustices such as those of Tofino’s past must never happen again.”
Prior to the apology, Osborne offered a historical perspective provided by the National Association of Japanese Canadians.
“In 1941, Japanese Canadians in Tofino were affected by the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the war with Japan. On Dec. 15, 1941, their fishing boats were rounded up and confiscated. Japanese Canadians were labeled enemy aliens, despite the fact that the military advised they were no threat to the country,” she said. “In 1942, they were given 24 hours notice to gather belongings and move from their homes in Tofino, eventually taken by ferry to Vancouver’s Hastings Park; a horse stable reeking of manure and urine that was converted into sleeping quarters where they stayed until they were moved into the interior of B.C. and to internment camps.”
Isabel Kimoto was a 19-year-old living in Tofino in 1942.
“I remember police just pushed the door open and took the radio,” she told the Westerly News in a 2012 interview. “My husband was a fisherman and his boat was anchored in the ocean in front of the house, they beached the boat and then, around Christmas time, all the Japanese fisherman had to move their boats to New Westminster.”
Isabel passed away in 2015. Her daughter Ellen, who was three months old when her family was forced out of their West Coast home, attended Tuesday’s apology.
“I think how [my mother] would have put it, if she had been around, she would have said, ‘We were pushed around a lot during those days and this apology pushes back.’ I think that’s what she would have said,” Ellen told the Westerly.
She added the apology was a “bittersweet” event.
“The sweetest part was Josie’s apology. I think that was heartfelt and emotional. I think she put a lot of herself into it and I liked the way she ended the apology with a call for people to get along with each other,” she said. “The apology made me hopeful and optimistic. On the other hand, the bitter part was that the people who really suffered weren’t there to hear it, because the apology took so long in coming. My mom and all her age group; they’re all gone.”