Yoshio (Yon) Shimizu (1924-2016) was in his final year of High School in Victoria, B.C. in February 1942, when an Order-in-Council was passed stating that all people of Japanese ancestry would be excluded from a 100-mile zone inland from the Pacific Coast. A few months later, Yon and an older brother would leave behind his mother and younger siblings in an internment camp in the B.C. interior to travel by train to Schreiber, a small community in northern Ontario, to work in a road camp. When there was an opportunity to work in Southwestern Ontario to help with the sugar beet harvest, Yon relocated to Glencoe. In 1993, Yon published a book called The Exiles about the road camp experience in Ontario and British Columbia, but this essay describes his time working in the harvests in rural Ontario and then a work camp in Kapuskasing, before living in Toronto and earning a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto in 1948. Yon faced discrimination after graduation but was able to secure a position at a Die-Casting company in Wallaceburg. He would later earn an MBA from the University of Windsor, driving to Windsor to attend night classes in the 1960s, and retired at the end of 1985 from Waltec Industries as Vice-President and General Manager. In addition to a successful business career, Yon would received Citizen of the Year awards from both the Wallaceburg and District Chamber of Commerce, and the Wallaceburg Junior Chamber of Commerce.
GLENCOE SUGAR BEET CAMP, MAY THE 29TH - NOVEMBER THE 12TH, 1942.
Those of us from Camp Black who volunteered to work in the sugar-beet fields of South-Western Ontario were trucked to the train station in Schreiber where we joined up with a group of men from the Schreiber Camp. I was surprised to read from the archival documents that we boarded the train at 3:30 am on the 29th of May! We must have had to get up really early because we were six miles back in the bush from Schreiber and there really wasn't much of a road yet.
On our way to the sugar beet camp in South-Western Ontario, the train made a stop at the Jackfish Road Camp which was approximately 20 miles south-east of Schreiber and was the Eastern terminus of the unfinished, future Trans-Canada Highway. There we were joined by some Jackfish Camp men who had also volunteered to work in the sugar-beet fields. There now were 135 men on the train who were headed for a new adventure on the sugar beet farms of South-Western Ontario. I think that most of us who volunteered were looking forward to seeing another part of this new and hitherto unknown Province of Ontario. None of us knew what his ultimate destination was to be, except that it was in a part of the province where farming was the mainstay of the economy and we were being asked to help in whatever way we could the farm economy.
As we travelled from North-Western Ontario, we could see the scenery change from the rocky, stunted growth which is characteristic of the north shore of Lake Superior, to a more pleasant, grassy, hilly terrain, until past London, the land flattened out considerably, and we were greeted by lush looking green fields on both sides of the train.
I can recall being overjoyed by the sight, because the green fields at this time of the year reminded me of the home I had left behind in April, to end up in that scrubby, rocky land on which Camp Black was situated. We must have stopped in Toronto on our way, but I can't remember that. I don't remember that I got off the train for any reason. We may have been given sandwiches to eat on the train, but except for my memories of the changing country-side, my memories of that trip are very vague.
The train finally stopped at the Glencoe station which is about half an hour from London. The Mountie who was accompanying us, told our half of the coach to get off here; this was the end of the line for us. According to the Archival records, there were 58 of us who were in this camp as of the 25th of June 1942 and 55 at the Dresden Camp which does not add up to the 155 that another record shows left the road camps in the first group. There must have been some transfers out of the Dresden camp. When I began my archival research, I learned that the other Japanese men on the train went on to Thamesville another small town about half an hour from Glencoe. From there they were trucked about 15 miles north-west to a camp at Dresden, which is only about 12 miles from Wallaceburg.
We were met at the station by a couple of trucks and a delegation of people including ministers of some of the churches in town. The trucks took us to our new home, the Crystal Palace, which was the exhibition building for the Glencoe Fair. The churches welcomed us with a meal prepared by the ladies of the churches and we really appreciated the home-cooked food they served us, after the road camp fare we had been eating since we first arrived in Ontario. We soon found out that the Japanese man, who was our cook for the camp, had been the cook for the Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, and his brand of fare was much more refined than the meals which were served to us at Camp Black. I recall that I really enjoyed his meals, although one of our Victoria fellows told me that he didn't like the fancy hotel type of sandwiches he gave us for our lunches.
On Sunday mornings after we had settled in for a few weeks, he served us a gruel like rice dish which was called "chagai", which we ate with fish. This was a real treat for the fishermen in the camp who were ecstatic the first time we had it and they really looked forward to Sunday breakfasts. I had never had this before, but I do like rice, even to this day.
Our facilities consisted of the main building which had been converted by the Ontario Farm Service Force to a kitchen and mess hall downstairs and dormitory type accommodations upstairs on the second floor with double-decked bunk-beds and room to spare for a few tables. One of the tables became a permanent poker table from the first night we were there, as I recall, and I don't believe that there was a single night when some of the men weren't playing poker. We had with us a group of fishermen from Tofino and Ucluelet on the West coast of Vancouver Island and they appeared to have considerable money in their money belts and they were very much into poker playing.
They played serious poker, there was always lots of folding stuff in the pot, and I remember once when one of the men showed me how someone in the camp had marked the deck to get that extra advantage. I don't believe they ever identified the culprit and there never was a fight over the card games they played. Money belts were a new thing to me; at my age and with only $24 in my pocket, I didn't know there was such a thing as a money belt for safe-keeping.
Just behind the main building was a wash/shower-room with lavatory basins and showers with hot water. How we loved this, because at Camp Black there were no lavatory basins or showers! Out back, beyond the wash/shower-room was the out-house, a six-holer as I recall. When I first examined the out-house, I noticed that it had a concrete holding basin. There was no way for anything to escape from the basin. The first problem we had with the out-house was an infestation of some kind of creepy, crawly, small, caterpillar-like creature with a tail.
It was a terribly disconcerting, uncomfortable situation knowing that there were these critters crawling around below your bottom while you were answering the call of nature. We got rid of them completely with the use of lime, thank goodness! I had never seen anything like them before or since.
Later in the summer, the out-house had to be cleaned out. I wasn't aware that this was to be done, but one day when we were returning to the camp on the open truck which was used to take us to the different farms, we were met at the far end of the town by a most malodorous scent. As we progressed through the town the scent became worse, until when we arrived at the camp it was obvious that we had arrived very near to the source of the odour. We were told that two men had taken on the job of cleaning out the out-house and had spread the contents on the farm land immediately behind the camp grounds.
In order to do the job, we were told that the men downed a 26er of liquor and were pretty drunk by the time they finished. It was horrible as I remember, and we tried closing the windows to try to lessen the stink while we had our dinner, but it didn't help at all. We eventually had to open the windows and doors, because in this part of Ontario, it is hot, hot, in the summer time, and if it is humid as it usually is, there is no way one can exist without air circulation and in those days there was no air- conditioning.
Being a city bred boy, I had never been subject to anything like this, but living here in Wallaceburg, we are subject to the stink from farms. Whenever the scent of pig manure is wafting through the air around here, which doesn't happen often, thank goodness, my mind shifts back in time to that day in Glencoe and the "honey-dippers".
The camp had a wire fence around it, but it was very low, about 3 ft. in height and there was a guard-house at the entrance. There was an RCMP constable stationed there for a few weeks together with a couple of WW I veterans for around the clock surveillance. We were told that only three of us could leave the camp in the evening after work and that we had to sign out and check in with the guard on return.
We had not expected this, it was our understanding that we would be much freer away from the road camp and this caused some grumbling at the start, but we were told that the numbers could be increased as the towns-people became familiar with us. It did not take long for that to happen, the people had no idea what we were like, and were very surprised that we talked English.
On Saturday, May the 30th, the London Free Press printed a short article on our arrival:
As the story says, that night we had a really bing, bang, dilly of a summer lightning, thunder and rain storm, the likes of which most of us had never seen before. We all stood at the windows of the upstairs sleeping quarters just amazed at the pyrotechnics of a summer storm in this part of Ontario. I remember, as a youth in Victoria, standing in Beacon Hill Park, along the waterfront in the summer months, looking to the east and seeing the lightning flashing over on the mainland, never hearing the thunder, but being fascinated by the light show so far off!
The torrent of rain which fell wasn't good for the beet farmers. Apparently, they had had quite a bit of rain already, and the ground was getting packed and the clay soil in the area wasn't going to make the "thinning" or "blocking" easy When it dried out enough to for us to Start working. Here, I think that I should explain for the benefit of those of you who are not familiar with the cultivation of sugar beets that there are three basic operations which had to be done after the seeds had sprouted.
1) "Thinning" or "blocking" had to be performed with a short handled hoe about 18 to 20 inches long. The seedlings had to be used to separate the leaves of the seedlings if they had grown so tall that you couldn't see where the ground was. Was this ever hard on the back! If you were good at it, you stayed in this bent position until you got to the end of the row; the thing I hated most, was when I couldn't see the end of the row when I started to work. It turned out that ground conditions this spring were one of the worst they had had for the "thinning" process because of the rain, and clay soil, This was our baptism We were supposed to be able to make up to $5 a day, as I recall, working the fields on contract. As it was, because of the adverse conditions and our inexperience, we all ended up working for 25¢ an hour which was garanteed by the government for all three operations.
2) "Second hoeing" was done about a month or so after “thinning”, to get rid of the weeds which grew between the plants. This was not bad, we worked with regular long handled hoes, which did not require bending over. I remember once we were in a field working away, when a lightning bolt flashed down and hit the wire fence around the field where we were working. I felt the hoe jump around in my hands and a sort of tingling in the handle. There were some cows in the next field, but nothing happened to them, so we were not afraid; we didn't know anything about the dangers of lightning. Today, I know I would head for the nearest ditch!
3) The last operation was called "topping", when the leaves and a thin slice of the top of the sugar beet had to be cut off. We used a machete-like knife, fitted at the end with a curved hook, with which we picked the beets from off the ground. They first had to be loosened from the ground, by the farmer with his tractor and an implement for loosening the beets. After the beets were "topped", we would throw them in piles on the ground and they would be loaded into a wagon manually, then transported to the sugar beet refinery, by truck or rail, to Chatham or Wallaceburg. A good friend from our University days was working in the Wallaceburg refinery in June of 1948 and was instrumental in my coming to Wallaceburg to work after graduation. I was having trouble finding a job, because it was too soon after the war for Japanese graduates to be readily accepted.
On Monday June the 1st, the London Free Press ran a longer story on us:
As the reporter wrote, George was really roly-poly, and in those days, there weren't too many fat Japanese to my knowledge, and he was the only fat man in camp, although there was a fellow who was a little pudgy, by the name of Aki Sakanashi, who was the one who wrote the short letter on p. 511 of my book. The reporters reference to exercising may be to a high bar which some of the men installed between the back of the main building and the shower room. There was one man in camp who could really perform on the bar. I don't know where he learned his routine, but I was always ready to watch him because he was really good at it.
When Monday morning arrived, there was a job with a farmer who was looking for some men to help him plant tomatoes. I believe his name was MacLaren. The town of Glencoe and the surrounding area, we later learned, was populated by families of Scottish descent. Our paper boy who delivered the London Free Press and the Toronto Daily Star, was named Alex MacFarlane. This I know, because I got his name and wrote to him from Kapuskasing after I left Glencoe in November and he sent me three pictures of himself which I still have in my album. Anyway, I quickly volunteered to go and so did my brother Stum, and a couple of other fellows from Victoria.
Tomato planting was easy work. Two of us had to sit close to the ground on each side of the planting rig which punched evenly spaced holes in the ground, squirted water in the holes into which we each had to place a tomato plant in alternating holes. The rig then drew dirt back around the plant. The rig was drawn by a tractor which took us up and down the field, and there was another rig for planting, from which the other two fellows planted. This was my first ever farm job, and I felt good about it. We were paid 25¢ and hour, and I believe we worked most of the day, and we must have completed the planting because we did not go back,
By Tuesday morning the ground was dry enough for all of us to go out to thin sugar beets, and we worked at this until all the fields had been "thinned". We went out in groups of maybe five to ten to a farm, depending on the size of the field and the demand for our labor. I have no idea how much acreage was on an individual farm, but most fields seemed to be huge, and never ending, which was most discouraging to most of us, I believe. Many of the men wrote back to their friends and told them not to volunteer for work on the sugar beet farms because the work was extremely back-breaking and the money to be earned was not worth it.
The Ontario Farm Service Force and the Canada and Dominion Sugar Company had wanted 500 men in the summer of 1942, and our unfavorable experience with the work scuttled any chance for that expectation to be met. A. Maclaren, the Director of the OFSF reported in a letter on December the lst to A. MacNamara, Dominion Deputy Minister of Labour, "372 men were recruited for the season, of whom about 25 were sent back to Schreiber as unfit or unwilling to do the work. However, the balance who did work, were, I should say, about 85% satisfactory. Many of the farmers were perfectly satisfied with the work these men had done."
It was just not possible for men experienced in fishing, logging, lumber and paper mill work, where they made fairly good pay, to take to the work involved in growing sugar beets. As a recent high school graduate unfamiliar with any real kind of work, let alone farm work, I found the beet work hard, but everything else we worked at was no real problem except doing corn for ensilage (for those not familiar with this term, it's the harvesting of corn on the stalk which is shredded, for animal feed). The corn stalks are cut and tied together in sheaves in the field and then taken in on a wagon to be shredded in the shredding machine and put into a silo via a conveyor. The sheaves were heavy because they were green, not dried out, and tossing them with a pitchfork onto a wagon to be taken to the shredder, was a heavy job for me.
A week later on June the 6th, another short article appeared in the London Free Press:
On Monday, June the 8th, another story. was printed in the London Free Press, by a staff reporter who wrote the following:
I think that it was sometime in October that the Fox theatre had the Bing Crosby movie "Holiday Inn" showing which introduced the song "White Christmas". Most of us went to see it once, but one of the fellows from Victoria was so taken by the movie's song, that he went to see it every night the week it ran. He sang it in the bunk-house all the time, trying to imitate Bing!
We were lucky to have been assigned to Glencoe, because we never had any problems being accepted by the townspeople once they got to know us. Other camps, such as the ones in Chathem and Essex had real problems most of the time, especially in Chatham. The location of the camp in Chatham had to be moved from within the city limits at the sugar factory to a few miles from the city. In addition, the people did not want the men in town at all, although the farmers were desperate for help.
The situation was cleared when the men insisted that they would not stay and work where they were not welcome. It was supposed to be the policy of the OFSF that we would not be put into an area where the sentiment was antagonistic towards us.
After the "thining" was finished, we worked at picking cucumbers for the Lealand Pickle Company in a place called West Lorne which was maybe 20 to 25 miles south-west from Glencoe, The ones we were asked to pick initially were the gherkin size. Later we would be picking the larger sizes. I can remember how we would periodically stop to rest, and if it was getting on to lunch-time, the talk would inevitably get around to how we remembered the meals we used to get in the good old chop houses in Victoria or wherever we came from and there we were in a field of cucumbers, some of us chewing on one we had just picked and peeled with a knife.
One day, another fellow from Victoria and I climbed up to the hay loft in the barn which was on the field for a snooze after lunch. No one bothered to call us down when they were returning to the field. It may have been 15 - 30 minutes later that the "straw-boss" missed us and he came to the barn, banged on the walls, shouted and woke us up. I can remember that I was in a deep sleep and it felt so good, but duty called, and we walked sheepishly out, to the cheers of our fellow workers. Our camp had a Japanese head foreman who assigned the workers to the farmers, and then a "straw-boss" when we went out in a gang.
This boss had three sons in a camp, and they were the largest family group in the camp with the youngest in the family 17 years of age. He didn't have to be here, but the family males wanted to be together so the youngest chose to come along with them.
In late July we were called upon to help with the wheat harvest. This was a job which all of us enjoyed, for at least three reasons. It was not like the back-breaking toil of "thinning", we were paid 35¢ an hour and we didn't have to pack a sandwich lunch bucket because the farmers welcomed us to eat with them and all the other harvesting help. I remember being quite overwhelmed by the welcoming attitude of the men, as well as the women who came to help prepare and serve the tremendous meals which were served to all of us. As I remember, it was roast beef or pork with mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and always, pie for dessert. Of course we had tea or coffee as well.
You have to remember that we had been driven from our homes by racial prejudice in British Columbia, reviled and despised by the bulk of the population, and here in the farmlands of South-Western Ontario, we were welcomed as equals and saviours by the farming population. Later, the oats and barley ripened and we helped harvest them, although I only worked in the wheat harvest, as I remember. Between "second hoeing", harvesting of grains, suckering and later, harvesting tobacco, and any other work for which the farmers needed help, we had enough to keep us working steadily through the summer months. There must have been a need for tomato pickers, but I know that I didn't go tomato picking and I don't remember that anyone else did, but our Camp Foreman did the work assignments, and others may have gone picking this crop.
I remember an incident which occurred during the lunch hour at a wheat harvest which I always think about with a shudder. This farmer needed to kill a pig or two, so we watched. The only way he had to kill the pig was to slit its throat, and then let it run around the barnyard, until it dropped from loss of blood and then died. The pig's laboured breathing through its flapping slit throat was the most disturbing part of the scene for me.
One of the other farm jobs we did was hoeing weeds in corn fields. I remember one hot, muggy, day in late August, we were working in a field where the corn was taller than I was, going on 6 foot tall. I was in a row working by myself and I bent over to clear by hand, some weeds right next to the corn stalk. I had barely grabbed the weeds when this snake rose up out of the weeds, hissed at me flaring out its hood. All I could think of was "cobra!", screamed, dropped my hoe and headed for the hills. The other fellows came running to me, and so did the farmer, who was there under a shade tree. I told everyone that there was this snake that looked like a cobra in the field and that it hissed at me when I went to get at some weeds. The farmer laughed and said that I must have seen a puff adder. T have never liked snakes, and that really scared the hell out of me! I don't think that I've ever seen another since.
Sometime during a holiday, probably Labour Day, the Ridgetown All-Stars asked us to play a softball game with them. They must have read about us, the fact that we liked to play the game, and thought we were pretty good. We had a pretty good pitcher, but he wasn't up to his usual game,. and when his arm failed him and us, we got the pants beaten off us. It got so bad that even yours truly was asked to pitch, and I don't pretend to be a good pitcher! I can't remember the score, it must have been so horrible that I've blocked it out of my memory completely.
On October the 6th, we had a little flare-up in the camp. Twenty men refused to go to work. Their complaint was "if they were not permitted to return to their families after the sugar beet season, they would not continue to work." Pipher [Graham Pipher, a representative of the British Columbia Security Commission who had been assigned to the workers] came to the camp, threatened the men with detention and promised them no black listing if they would return to work. There were six Victoria men involved in this; the only one some of you might remember was Jack Henmi, who was a member of the Class of '42.
At the 50 yr. reunion we had in Victoria in 1992, when I saw one of the men who was mentioned as one of the strikers, I asked him about the strike, because I was surprised to read about it from the archival material; I had completely forgotten about the incident. He could not remember the incident either, it was not that big a deal. In 1994, I met Jack Hemmy (that's how he spells his name now) in Toronto and he could not remember anything about it either!
On the 14th of October, a Mr. Macfie of Appin wrote to Mr. Reek, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Agriculture, that "complaints were going abroad because of waste and extravagance in the Glencoe Jap. Camp. ... the man who gathers the garbage has stated different times that partly used portions of food are being thrown into the can - partial roasts of meat, rolls of bologna etc. These may be exaggerated but I think this reported waste and the conditions should be investigated. ... if these rumours are baseless they should be contradicted ." Reek sent this information on to Garner the Agricultural Representative responsibie for some of these camps. His reply was that he had eaten at the camp twice, and that the meals were good but not extravagant and he had seen no "wasteful practices".
Another supervisor McPherson "has been there on several occasions during meal time and at other times unannounced and he has seen no indications oF wasting of food". He commented, "on a recent meat account that they purchased turkey at 38¢ a pound and there may have been some comment regarding this purchase. However, if we compare this with the retail price of any reasonably cut of beef, it can hardly be termed undue extravagance". He closed wuth "If the party or parties who have registered this complaint will supply specific information it would facilitate matters here a great deal." I never heard a thing about this complaint, so I guess it died a natural death.
By sometime in October, the only crops left to harvest were the corn crop and the sugar beets, As I related earlier, I did take part in harvesting corn for ensilage, but not too often, thank goodness, it was a hard job for me. By late October, the weather had turned, and we were working in quite cold temperatures, with the odd snow flurries. Harvesting the beets was not as back-breaking as "thinning", but some of the beets were so huge that they had to be "topped" by resting them on one's raised leg as a support, holding them steady with one hand while chopping at them with the beet knife. I was always extremely careful, because as you can guess, I wasn't about to poke the pick in my leg, or to slice it!
On one of the fields we were harvesting, the train tracks were very close but raised up so the other side couldn't be seen. I was curious to see what was on the other side, se I climbed up the embankment. There was a field of popping corn. It was the only field we worked near when it was ripe for picking, so some of us went into the field and picked some ears. We popped the corn on New Year’s day when we were in the bush camp. It popped quite well and it tasted good, because it was the first time any of us had ever picked the corn and then popped it. We were the last of the sugar beet camps to close; the beet harvest was completed in the Glencoe area, on the 11th of November, and a group of us left for Kapuskasing on the 12th. There were snow-flurries the day we left.
Most of those who didn't volunteer for e bush work went back to the camp at Schreiber. I was to learn later, that certain individuals including my two oldest brothers who were at two other camps, were offered jobs in other locations. Jack Hemmy was able to wangle a release to Toronto. How this process was carried on is a mystery to me, even to this day. Certainly, Pipher only offered the bulk of us in the camp, the option of bush work or return to the road camp. We already knew what that was like, so most of us Victoria fellows decided to go to Kapuskasing. We thought that we could make more money there than back at the road camp and we would be free from the road camp restrictions. In all, 51 sugar beet workers volunteered to go to work for the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, which I later learned was owned by the New York Times.
CAMP 30 IN KAPUSKASING, NOVEMBER THE 13TH 1943 - MID APRIL 1943.
We arrived in Kapuskasing on November the 13th, after a long train ride from South-Western Ontario. When we got there, we had to transfer to the company rail line to get to our camp which was approximately 30 miles from the town of Kapuskasing. The camp was about 150 miles from James Bay and that's really far North Country! We were really back in bush country, but I néver had the sense of isolation that one might imagine. It may havé been that this was just another new page in my life and the sénse of adventure may have overridden any other emotions. The camp didn't have the showers and basins which the beet camp did, but we managed with the Finnish steambath which was there. We were told to roll in the snow or jump in the lake when it wasn't frozen, after we'd had our steam bath, but I don't think many of us did either! The out~house was the usual multi-holer.
We were not alone in this camp, there was a group of white men from the West who arrived in camp shortly after we did. They were from Manitoba as we learned from them, and they were there for the winter to work in the bush. We did not mingle or bunk with them, or work together in the bush. The only timé we really saw them as I recall was at meal-time and then they sat at their tables and we at ours. I'm not sure what this separation was all about, but we had no problems. The one thing which none of us liked was to sit next to the stableman. His clothes just reeked of the smell of horses and this was something we weren't used to. He sat next to me once when I was in camp at lunch-time, and it was not a very pleasant experience. He was an older man, and seemed to be a nice enough person as I talked to him over lunch. We never really got to know any of these Manitobans, even though many of them were around our ages.
One of the first surprises whith I had shortly after arrival at the camp was the sight of snow or ice particles falling from a perfectly cloudless sky! I was not used to seeing anything falling from the sky unless there were clouds overhead. This did not last long, because we began to have real snow falling very soon, and low temperatures to go with the season, so that if it wasn't snowing, there was always snow on the ground. It turned out that this winter into which we were entering would be one of the coldest winters on record to that time.
Just our luck, after coming from South-Western Ontario where they had experienced one of the wettest Springs for many years, we land in the North where another record was to be set. Another natural phenomenon which we had the pleasure of experienting was.the sight of the Aurora Borealis more or less immediately overhead. I can remember going outside on many a cold winter's night to stand awe-struck at the sight of the magnificent shimmering, crackling spectacle of the Northern Lights all around me. We hearned about the Northern Lights in school, but I don't think that I had ever seen them before, and that far North, they were really impressive!
Some other remembrances about nature in the bush were the ravens which were large and plentiful here. I don't remember anything about their cry, but they were huge birds, like a crow, but very much larger. They didn't bother us at all, but we had chickadees galore in the bush, and they would come around at lunch-time looking for stray crumbs. Once a chickadee wasn't content to wait for a crumb, but swooped down at me and tried to take a bite out of the sandwich in my hand, scaring the hell out of me! Another time, I heard this drumming sound near me and when I crept up cautiously to find out what was making the sound, it turned out to be a partridge, I think, doing his mating ritual. I never did see the female around, but then he may have been calling one to him. I never heard that any of us ever saw a wild animal in the bush. There was a husky dog in the camp but I don't remember whose dog it was.
One of the first things we had to do was to out fit ourselves for working in the bush and in the cold. There was a store in the camp where we could purchase the right kind of clothes for the job. Breeches, wool shirts, woollen long-johns, woollen sox, knee high leather and rubber boots, a parka and mittens. We were able to withstand almost any low temperatures, but there was one day when the thermometer was reputed to have hit -60°F when no one ventured out into the bush to cut pulp-wood! It was so cold that we could hear the roof boards making cracking noises because of the cold.
It was so cold that one of the fellows who had Russian Bear Oil hair dressing by the head of his upper bunk bed against the outside wall, had it freeze. Another time when I was in town, I had a pen in my jacket and a parka over it, and the ink in the pen froze. As they say, it was a dry cold, and did not penetrate as badly as cold in the south, but don't let anyone kid you, when the thermometer gets down to -40° and -50°F it is still very cold, especially if there is a wind.
The bush did protect you to some degree from the wind, but I remember one day, when my brother, Stum came to have lunch with me his face was swollen badly on one side where it had been exposed to the wind. He wasn't even aware that this had happened to him until I told him. His face wasn't frost-bitten, but the cold wind just puffed it up, and possibly because it was cold enough, he was not aware of it.
Another problem I had as soon as we arrived, was getting used to the camp cooking. We had lots to eat, but the meals were greasy and coarse, and I had a lot of trouble digesting the food; for weeks I would re-gurgitate the food after supper. We always had pie or cake for dessert, and any that was left over was left out for breakfast or we took it for lunch. We packed our own lunch and I used to carry my two thermoses in my parka pockets, and loaded the lunch bucket top and bottom with bread and meat as well as a piece of pie or cake. I put on a little weight up in the bush.
Before we started to work, we were given a Swede saw and an axe. The Swede saw was a saw with a bow shaped handle to which a saw blade could be attached, and was approximately 50" long from one marker to the other. There was a straight metal marker at the far end of the saw which was hooked onto the butt-end of a felled tree. At the handle end was another marker with which you made a mark on the tree that indicated where you were to cut, to get the right length of pulp-wood. If we broke the saw blade or the axe handle, we had to buy a replacement. I can't remember what an axe handle cost, but saw blades cost about $1 and we were making $4 a day on day work, and could earn $5 a day if we cut our quota on piecework, which was 1.25 cords a day; a cord was 4'x4'x8'. At the end of a day, you piled your logs into a crib so that you and the scaler knew how much wood had been cut.
Our working claims were laid out lay the camp foremen who was also a "scaler", a man who could estimate the amount of wood available from a given piace of bush and also responsible to record what each man produced. He would lay out working claims with stakes which indicated the centre of the claim roadway, and the left and right borders of each claim. It was our job to cut a 100" road-way down the centre of the lot and pile our cords of wood close to the road-way so that the pulpwood could be piled on the sleds to be hauled out of the bush in the Spring for the log drive.
Any trees that we cut in the roadway had to be cut within a few inches of the ground so that the sleds would not get hung up on a stump when the log drive started and the logs were hauled out of the bush. We all used to work in adjoining lots or very close together so that those of us who only spoke English would arrange beforehand to get together for our lunch at a central lot where there would be a fire going so that we could thaw out our lunches. We would bury our lunch buckets in a pile of snow, but we still had to toast everything to eat, because everything would be frozen by lunch-time.
Most of us used to carry two thermoses full of tea, but I can remember in the early winter before there was a lot of snow on the ground and everything wasn't frozen, drinking the water on the ground when I was thirsty. We were in muskeg country, and I never worried about the purity of the water I figured that we were far enough North that the water wasn't contaminated. I don't know if my reasoning was correct, but I didn't come down with anything serious, the water tasted good and it was cold! When I thought about it in later years, I would think that I was stupid to drink that muskeg water!
Whence we started to work, we were on day work and working with a partner on a claim. I don’t recall that we were expected to cut any set quota. Working with a partner made the work a lot easier because you could help each other with the heavy logs and I had a partner who was 4 or 5 years older than I was and had been out doing labor work, so that he was used to the physical requirements of the job. However by the middle of December, we were sent out to work alone on our own lots. We would all go out together in the morning following each other out into the bush, but we didn‘t all necessarily quit at the same time, that would depend on how soon you cut your quota and whether you wanted to make more money if you were on piece-work.
Generally when we finished our day's work, we would go meet up with the nearest neighbor, to head back to camp. This one day my neighbor was a young man who was a few years older than I was and whose father had owned a logging company on Vancouver Island. He was a logger, and used to this kind of work, and usually cut at least 13 cords or more everyday when he got doing piecework. When I came to his claim, he was working hard on a tree he had just felled. He literally ran up the tree trunk hacking off the limbs, then picked up his saw and cut it up into logs in no time flat! This was the end of the day, I was tired from my work, and here was Don working at a pace I couldn't develop first thing in the morning.
I realized then, that this was no place for me. I just did not have the physical requirements to work at this kind of job. However, our agreement with the company when we volunteered to come to work here, was that we would stay for at least two months to offset the cost to the company of our train fare, and if we stayed for another two months, the company would pay our fare back to Schreiber.
Another day, as we were coming back to the camp, there was this blood all along the trail. One of the men had cut his foot when he was hacking off the limbs of a tree. We never had a first aid man in the bush, or a first aid kit. Even after this accident, I don't believe that we were that concerned that we have such a thing out in the bush. In those days, I guess we thought that we just had to be careful when we worked. We were never too far from someone else, and I guess that was our only comforting thought. The fellow who cut his foot walked back to camp by himself. The sight of that blood all the way back to camp was a very sobering sight. However, when we arrived back at the camp, we were relieved to find out that he was OK and that it was a cut that didn't require him to go into Kapuskasing to have a doctor stitch it up. I don't think that he took any other time off-except that day.
There was one time when I could have been very seriously hurt when I "hung" a tree up. We always tried to fell a tree in a direction so that it would fall cleanly to the ground and not into another tree or trees where it would hang, and not fall to the ground. If this happened, we had to-fell another tree onto the one hung up so that both of them would come to the ground. This was for safety's sake so that the tree would not come down by itself later, unexpectedly, and cause someone to get hurt. When I had to get the "hung" tree down, the only tree I could cut, to hit the tree at more or less right angles, was leaning in the wrong direction so that it would not fall in the required direction unaided. Before I cut the second tree I had to cut and trim a sapling which I could use to push high enough up on it to get it to fall in the direction to knock the "hung" one down.
My saw would be trapped in the cut because of the backward leaning of the tree and I always ran up to get my saw out before the tree fell, so the blade would not get broken; "hung" trees were not uncommon, so I knew what I had to do.
This time, the first tree did not come down and, the second tree slid down the length of that tree picking me up under my armpits before I could grab my saw and carried me quickly backwards off the ground until it stopped sliding at the base of the "hung" tree. Fortunately for me, this kept it off the ground a couple of feet so that my legs didn't get pinned underneath and it stopped so quickly that I was unceremoniously dumped on my rear end when it stopped. It all happened so fast that I wasn't afraid while things were happening, all I could think of was my saw which I hadn't been able to free before I was lifted off my feet. It took some seconds fer me to realize what a close call I had. I was lucky that as I travelled backwards on that second tree, my body wasn't smashed into another tree and that at the end I wasn't pinned under that tree.
After I had a chance to clear my brain, I realized that I now had two trees with which to contend although the second tree was almost on the ground. I still had to get the first tree down. I was able to do this with the next tree, although I now had a mess on my hands with three trees, lying at different angles, one on top of the other, to trim and cut up. It took a little more time than usual, but that was the story of my life in the bush anyway.
On Christmas Day, the Company gave all of us $5 as a present, and we had a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, including candies, oranges and apples. This was the first time I was away from home at Christmas and I missed the family atmosphere. My brother Stum was in the hospital in Kapuskasing at this time. He had been hospitalized for tonsillitis since the 20th, and wasn't released until shortly after the New Year. I had my own problems later on, an infected finger and a headache, which required me to see the doctor in town and stay over for a couple of days in a hotel. I never was in really good health most of the time I was in the camp.
The December 26th issue of The New Canadian printed the following column sent by one of the men in the camp:
I can't remember that I read this issue of the NC when we were in camp, but I do remember Ty as a good humored, sensible man who may have been close to thirty then. He also had a younger brother Steve who was maybe in his mid-twenties, and they both came from Ocean Falls where I understood the men worked in the pulp and paper mill. They had both been in Glencoe with us. We had a number of other brother combinations in the camp. Our second cook, George, had a brother who who practised Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine", on his clarinet, only he couldn't play the solo part all the way through, and it was a wonder no one strangled him as he practised the part, night after night, in the bunk-house after supper!
George had a reputation for the best baked beans on the rail-line. They were really good. My mother, being Japanese, never knew how to make baked beans, so we never had them. We never had them in Glencoe either, as far as I can remember. George made them from scratch of course, and the men who travelled the rail-line from one camp to another in some kind of capacity would make it a point to be at camp 30 for lunch or for dinner so they could eat his baked beans. I believe that they would ask when George might make beans so they could arrange to be at our camp! His secret was the use of maple syrup or some other tasty syrup to give them that special taste.
Another half of a brother combination, who came from Victoria, ground his teeth at night. The first time I heard it I could not understand what was happening. The noise was so loud, that when I later learned that it was someone grinding his teeth in his sleep, I couldn't believe that grinding teeth could cause such a commotion! When you consider the varied backgrounds of the men in camp, it was a wonder that we got along as well as we did. I guess our common background as Japanese and exiles in the same boat, created the bond which kept us from fighting amongst ourselves.
The article mentioned the lakes in front of the camp and some of the fellows bought skates or had them, and went skating and played hockey when the lake froze enough to skate on. What I remember about the lake was the day when some of the men decided to fish in the one in front of the camp. I don't remember how long it took to get to through the ice, but I do remember that they had a circle three or four feet around before they had a hole at the bottom big enough to fish through. The reason for the large circle was that the men had only axes to use to chop away at the ice. The fishing was excellent, and George took care of preparing the fish into Japanese style ground fish cakes, and were they a treat from the standard meat and potatoes diet that was our usual fare.
Interestingly, fishing was an act which we were forbidden to do by government decree, but since we were no Longer in a government controlled camp, and there were no regulations posted to remind of us this fact, I don't think that any of us thought about that at all.
It was obvious to me and the camp foreman that I just wasn't suited for cutting trees for pulpwood, and sometime in late February I was able to get om the “bull-gang”. This job involved cutting firewood and taking turns to be the one to keep all the bunk-house fires and the kitchen stove burning all night. We would keep a pot of coffee on the kitchen stove for ourselves and the "cat" driver who worked at night keeping roads open. The driver was a husky, young, red-headed French-Canadian, who had a prodigious appetite for fried eggs. He would come in about mid-night and fry up his dozen eggs and wolf them down with bread and his coffee, and then go back out to work! Another job we had to do as a member of the bull-gang was to knock down the columns which would form in the multi-holer out-house from the extreme cold. The out-house was built off ground level a few feet and had an access door across the back which could be dropped, and the person in charge of the job knocked down the frozen piles with a big stick to prevent anyone from becoming impaled on one in the dead of night.
Before I left the bush camp, I also spent some time working in the kitchen, a better job since it was all days, but you had to get up early to get the breakfast tables ready for the other men. One day, when I was peeling potatoes for supper, the camp foreman's daughter came in and started to talk to me; distracting me enough that I cut my finger badly. As I remember, she was maybe 16 or so, and quite attractive. However, that may have been only an impression, since she was the only female in camp. We didn't see her that often because she went to school in town and only came home on the week-ends. I can't remember that I ever saw her mother around, or even where they lived in the camp. There wasn't any future in getting the foreman upset, by paying attention to his teen-age daughter!
At last, the men finally were free to go into town to seek female companionship if they chose, without ruffling any local feathers. A situation which didn't exist in the road camp or the sugar beet camp. As far as I know, there never was any trouble of any kind, especially with the female population.
Once when I was in Kapuskasing to see the doctor and stayed over a couple of nights, I was introduced to a woman by the name of Rose who was friendly with some of the men from the camp. I never knew what her relationship with the men was and never asked, because she seemed to be a very nice woman, and not like the prostitutes I used to deliver papers to in Victoria. However, I may have been a little naive back in those days. Years later, when I ran into one of the fellows from the camp, I asked about one of the other men who was in camp with us. I was told that he died of "black syphilis", which he contracted from a prostitute whom he visited in Kapuskasing.
I had never heard of this before, (or since) and when I asked him what this was, he said that the infected individual exhibited blackish sores as the disease: progressed.
In our spare time when we would have a chance to chew the rag, women were not a prime target of conversation as I recall. It was usually the good old days in our home town in B.C., the things wedid and the favorite chop-suey houses and dishes we enjoyed the most. Lights went out at 9 pm so we didn't have a lot of time on our hands after supper. Sharpening one's axe was a favorite after supper past-time and, of course, there was always laundry to take care of, although that was usually done on the week-ends.
As Spring time approached, the company was anxious to have as many of us as possible to work on the log-drive. A number of the men decided to stay on and work for the company, but Stum and I knew that if we returned to Schreiber, there was a good chance that we could go to Toronto to work. So in mid-April, when all the bush work was done, we went to Timmins to obtain travel permits from the RCMP to return to the road camp in Schreiber. We stayed there until May the 28th, when we were finally given permission to travel to Toronto to work.
THE TORONTO YEARS, MAY THE 29TH, 1943 - AUGUST THE 3RD, 1948.
When Stum and I arrived in Toronto, we were met by our brothers, Kunio and Sumo, and shown to our new home, a.room on the third floor of-a house on Gerrard St. E. It had two single cots, a two-burner electric hot-plate and an orange crate nailed to the out-side of the window where we could keep butter and other perishables when the weather was suitable. We shared bathroom facilities with other roomers and the cost of the room was $5./week, which we split. Jobs had been found for us, Stum with Gorries, a Chev/Olds dealership which was just west along Gerrard St., towards Yonge, where Sumo worked as an automotive mechanic and Stum did joe-jobs to start.
My job was with Deluxe Platers which was on Markham St., one block west of Bathurst and just south of College St. which meant that I had to take a street car to get to work. There were already two Japanese working there; Louis Suzuki, who had been in the camp at Valetta where Kunio and George Tanaka had been, and a woman, Hattie Kunitomo, who had come to Toronto from one of the interior internment towns. There were five white workers as well, and two bosses; Phil Cooper who was the production expert and Lou Stern the front office man.
The work we did was mostly war work, cadmium and hard chrome, along with a little bit of nickel-chrome for consumers. I started as a cadmiumbarrel plater, which meant that I had to clean the material to be piated, usually brass Shakeproof washers, in a pottery basket with very small holes for drainage because the washers were only about 2" in diameter. This meant that the basket was heavy in the first place because the pottery was thick to avoid breakage, the brass washers made the basket heavy because the plating barrel needed to be well loaded and the basket didn't drain quickly because of the load and the small holes.
In addition to alkaline cleaning, the brass had to be to be dipped in nitric acid to brighten the brass which discolored in the alkaline electro-cleaning process. The acid dipping released toxic nitrous oxide fumes which were not exhausted back in those days, so Louis and I would put the basket in the water tank after the fumes started to be generated, and head for the back door if the wind was coming from that direction, or the other direction if not.
It's a wonder that Louis and I are not dead from the effects of the gas. Years later, when I was working for Waltec Forgings here in Wallaceburg, I read in a health bulletin that the gas reverted to nitric acid in the lungs and would destroy the lungs! At Forgings, we acid dipped all the brass forgings which we produced, but at least our system was ventilated and I was always concerned for the workers when I learned the real hazard of the process we were using. All the tanks had to be heated to a particular temperature, especially the cleaning tank which had to be boiling, to clean the processing oils from the metals we plated. All in all, the plant was a hot and humid place in which to work, especially in the summer, which was just beginning when I started. Of course, we had to wear rubber boots, aprons and rubber gloves because of the working conditions. It was not a country club atmosphere by any means!
We also had a degreasing machine which used trichloroethylene as a solvent for the grease and oils on the metal parts. This solvent was originally used as a dry cleaning agent. The machine had to be cleaned periodically of the heavily contaminated solvent and crud which collected in the boiling chamber. The practice was to pull the steam coil out and let the contaminated solvent drain into the sump, soak it up with saw-dust and then shovel it into a pail together with the crud and set it out for garbage.
Once when I was working on this job, I inhaled too much of the solvent fumes and ended up very groggy and light-headed, with slurred speech. One of the other fellows. who was working near me took me outside where I sat in the fresh air until I was reasonably normal. When I came to Wallaceburg to work, I was always around trichloroethylene to some degree, and whenever I was exposed to the fumes at all, I would immediately feel light-headed, and have to get away from that area.
One of the bosses at Deluxe Platers was a heavy drinker and one of the first things I was asked to do was to get a liquor purchasing permit so I could buy liquor for his use since I did not drink. I'm not sure whether he was an alcoholic, but he functioned well at work, but after the plant was closed, he and his buddy, Herb, (one of his customers) would drink in the office. I can remember one time when I was working after school and went into the office to ask him if there was anything else he wanted me to do before I went home. He got up from his chair and fell flat on his face when he went to take a step! He didn't appear to be hurt, but I sure was scared.
Another one of his peccadillos was his practice of peeing on the basement coal pile. That wasn't too bad, except for the usual lingering odor, but occasionally he would do it on the hot clinkers which had to be periodically removed by me from the coal-fired boiler used to produce the steam needed to heat the tanks.
This was murder! The smell of ammonia and urine would come upstairs where we were working and it was terrible! I had to put these clinkers in a garbage container along with the soot which I punched out of the heating tubes and set them outside to be picked up. When I began to work, after school, taking care of the boiler became my baby.
I worked in the electroplating shop until the middle of October when I decided that I had to continue my education and fit myself out for a better kind of working career. By the middle of August my mother, sister and younger brother had come to live in Toronto, and moved into a second floor apartment in a house owned by another Japanese family from Victoria who used to operate the Junction Cleaners there. I moved in with them and enroled in Jarvis. Collegiate and worked after school from about 3:45 or 4:00 until usually 6:00 at the plating shop.
I studied every night after supper until midnight and found Grade 13 to be the hardest school year of my life. I was about a month behind the rest of the class, and was carrying nine subjects: 3 maths, 2 sciences; 2 English and 2 French. The only recreational activity I took part in at school was to play basketball for the school and my claim to fame is that I was named to the City of Toronto All-Star Basketball Team for that year.
About a year after my mother came to Toronto we were able to buy a house. I received my Sr. Matric in June of 1944, and had already been accepted by the University of Toronto in their Chemical Engineering course. Around this time the Canadian government finally decided that it should accept Japanese-Canadians into the armed forces as interpreters, but as far as I was concerned, it was too late. My education was the principal concern for me. We had classes or labs until 5pm every day and lab work every Saturday morning until noon. Working after classes was not possible, but I was able to get some spending money by ushering at football games at Varsity Stadium on Saturday afternoons.
In the four years I was at university, I saw every Grey Cup game because they were all played in Toronto in those days. The irony was, that for the first three years I ushered in the covered stands, but in the final year I ended up in the south end bleachers. That was the year when it snowed during the game, and there were times when we couldn't see the game at all when the action was at the other end of the field! 1 still worked at Deluxe Platers in the summers and was able to give my mother money to pay for my board all year, pay for my tuition and have some money to go to the odd dance or movie.
At the end of my first summer working at the plating shop, I was working on a buffing machine touching up the finish on a car headlamp ring. The ring caught on the buffing wheel trapping my left hand against the wheel. Fortunately the machine did not have enough power to keep revolving, so I escaped with just a broken bone in my hand and a cut on my wrist. This was my last scheduled day at work for the summer so I returned to school, and was paid compensation for three or four weeks as I recall it really didn't hamper my work in school, so I looked on the accident as avery fortuitous event since I had more spending money!
While I was getting my Senior Matric, I dated a few Japanese Canadian girls. Sometime in my first year at university, I met a Japanese Canadian girl at the university whom I had met briefly in Vancouver the only time I visited there, in the summer of '40. We dated fairly steadily until I graduated and came to Wallaceburg. She went to a university in the States and met someone else. That was the end of our romance.
At the end of my third year, I went to work for Canada Packers in their Feed and Fertilizer department. I worked as a laborer in the feed department helping a man who mixed different kinds of "Shur Gain" feed for various animals and poultry. It wasn't a bad job, although the toughest part was trundling a wheelbarrow with 600 lbs. of salt up an incline about 18 inches off the floor to dump it into the hopper at the base of the mixer. I only dumped the salt load on the floor once. I think we mixed 2,000 lbs. of feed in a load.
What I remember about this job was that when my boss went on vacation, I received a 10¢ premium for being the operator, even though I did not have a helper.
The fertilizer department was something else again! There they mixed in crushed hooves and horn and dried blood into their formulations. The men who worked in hooves and horns and dried blood got a 10¢ premium for the dubious privilege. I had to work there for a short time, again to fill in for vacationing men. Hooves and horns stunk to high heaven all the time. Dried blood was OK when it was cool, but one day I dug my shovel into a warm pile of dried blood, and as I leaned forward to lift the shovel load, the steam rose up and almost made me throw up! The stink was horrible! I had to drop the shovel to find some fresh air to breathe. I can't describe the stink, but I was cautious from then on when dealing with the stuff.
I graduated in May of 1948, but it took me until August to find a job. It took the effort of a good friend of mine who went to bat for me with his boss at the Canada and Dominion Sugar Co. His boss' brother was a big industrialist in Wallaceburg, owning the Schultz Die-Casting Co., National Pressure Cooker (also makers of the Pressto Steam Iron) and Gordon Manufacturing who made who made washing machine agitators among other cast aluminum products. I went to Wallaceburg and began to work for the Sydenham Trading Company, a division of the Schultz Die-Casting Company on August the 4th, 1948.