Walking through labour history in Japantown

In 1927, the Japanese Camp and Millworkers Union became the first union of Asian workers to become affiliated to a national labour central, the Trades and Labour Congress.

Vancouver (29 April 2009) – Members of the B.C. Government and Services’ Employees Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) joined with community partners in the first Japantown Multicultural Neighbourhood Celebration on March 28. The celebration included displays, performances, story sharing, workshops and walking tours. Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs and BCGEU Vice President Lorene Oikawa led a walking tour of the Japantown area providing reminders of the labour movement and the Japanese Canadian community.

“We learn so much about labour rights and human rights when we share our stories. It’s no use having stories filed away in dusty cabinets or worse losing our stories,” says Oikawa. “And there is such a rich history in this area with many connections to Japanese Canadians and the labour movement.”

Japanese Canadian families and businesses thrived in Japantown (the Powell Street area of Vancouver) until the outbreak of World War II and then the government forced the removal of Japanese Canadians and sent them to prison camps away from the coast.

The Japantown Multicultural Neighbourhood Celebration (JMNC) celebrates the diversity, history and future of the neighbourhood. The collaborative community-based event provided an opportunity for arts, culture, and labour groups to work together.

Meggs says that the Japanese Canadians created a strong community quite quickly. He adds, “It’s quite striking to recall that in the 30’s there were three daily newspapers in Japantown and one provided a labour perspective.”

In 1927, the Japanese Camp and Millworkers Union (located on Powell Street) became the first union of Asian workers to become affiliated to a national labour central, the Trades and Labour Congress.

In the heart of Japantown is Oppenheimer Park (formerly known as the Powell Street Grounds) and one of the city’s oldest parks. It is these grounds which feature so prominently in many historical accounts of gatherings, demonstrations, speeches, and have strong ties for First Nations, Japanese Canadians and the labour movement.

Oikawa says JMNC is a good example of the positive outcome when labour is part of collaborative community building. “We need to do more community outreach and work together for safe, healthy and vibrant communities for all and so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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