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Zennosuke Inouye: A Canadian Veteran The struggle for his land.

This web page is an edited version of a Historica Project by Paul and Manpreet Gill. Historica was a history fair jointly sponsored by School District 36 and the Surrey Museum. With this project, Paul won a cash prize from the Surrey Historical Society.

Paul's project was based on an article in Nikkei Images entitled "Zennosuke Inouye's Land: A Canadian Veterans Affairs Dilemma," which appeared in the September 2004 issue of the Canadian Historical Review.

Zennosuke Inouye

Zennosuke Inouye had been born on September the 13th of 1884 in Aragun Hiroshima, Japan. He came to Canada from Japan in 1900 and during his first years in this country worked at a variety of jobs in British Columbia. He was versatile, skilful and resourceful and knew how to make a living.


In 1916 he enlisted in Calgary in the "Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force".


Attestation paper Attestation paper

These are the attestation forms that Zennosuke Inouye filled out and signed when he entered the Canadian Army in 1916. An Attestation paper is an agreement to be in the army and to be loyal to the Crown. It is an agreement to serve and to be attached to any arm of the service for a certain amount of time.


The next year, 1917 Inouye was wounded in France. He left the army in 1919 and the same year acquired 80 acres of wild land on Sandell Road in Surrey, British Columbia, under a soldier settlement scheme promoted by Ottawa after the war. The Sandell Road region of Surrey had recently been logged and was a tangle of stumps, logging refuse and tangled undergrowth.


In 1920 he married Hatsuno Morikawa and they had five children: Arthur, Tom, Robert, Mary and Beverley.


The Inouye family built a successful farm located on 324 Sandell Road (now 128th St.) but south of Townline Road (now 96th Avenue.) This district within Surrey is known as Strawberry Hill. Zennosuke was a leading figure in the work of the Surrey Berry Growers' Co–operative Association.


Other Japanese families came also. The Japanese did make competition very difficult. Men, women and children in their families all worked in the berry patches. The rest of us didn't work at their pace, and we also hired outside help. The price of berries began to fall. We formed a local berry Co-op in the Twenties, though ours wasn't the first in Surrey.
Mr. Inouye, a Japanese Canadian, who had served with the Canadian Forces overseas, was a natural leader in the Japanese community around Strawberry Hill, and it appears he was instrumental in forming a Berry Co–operative among the Japanese growers there, with anyone else free to join. pp78-79 The Surrey Story, 1978.

When the Second World War began, Inouye was still making loan payments as a soldier settler but, unlike many other participants in that troubled settlement scheme, he was still on the land and still in business.


Japanese Interment Notice

The action reflected in this deportation notice marked the beginning of the internment of Japanese Canadians, many of which were first or second generation Canadians. Evacuees were given the choice of deportation to Japan or transfer to areas at least 300 miles east of the coast. Those unwilling to go into internment meant possible deportation. Public protest stopped deportation but an unlucky 4000 had already been deported.


Internment Camp

The Canadian Government had set up 8 internment camp in the interior of BC. Some were in old mining town, but most were quickly thrown together by the internees themselves. Many families were forced to live in cramped quarters with many other families sharing one stove.


The uninsulated shacks were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. During the harsh cold winter many Japanese put lanterns under their beds to try and keep warm.


The fact that he was a veteran, however, did not save Zennosuke and his family from being removed from the Sandell Road property for internment in 1942. Nor did his status as a veteran exempt his property from the compulsory sale of Japanese–Canadian assets that followed. Ironically, Inouye's property was sold for use under the Veterans' Land Act, which Parliament passed in 1942 to provide opportunities for land settlement for veterans of the Second World War.


This was Inouye's early response to the seizure of his land:

Kaslo, B.C.
September 29th, 1944
Director of Veterans land Act,
Ottawa.
Dear Sir:
Re: my farmland which is described as
S1/4 of NW1/4 of Sec. 32, TP. 2, Dist. N.W.
And in the Municipality of Surrey
I am informed by the Custodian that the above property has been transferred by the custodian of the Department of the Secretary of State to you.
This transaction has been completed against my will, and I have never given the custodian any consent for the sale or have I been consulted by the Custodian of this transfer until the transfer was completed.
I understand that you are acquiring Japanese owned farmland in the Fraser Valley for the purpose of reselling them to soldiers who are returning from the present war.
I am an ex–service man of the last Great War serving in P.P.C.I. and 52nd Battalion while overseas. Returning from the overseas service in 1919, I acquired the above farmland which was then uncultivated wild land. However, I changed this land into cultivated productive small fruits farmland (32 acres were cleared since I bought this land) and all buildings including two dwelling houses, two root houses, a barn and woodshed thus raising the value of the property from the original buying value of $3200 to about $14,000. I raised my family in this farmland and all of my 5 children eldest of whom is 22 years old were all born there and brought up there, and we enjoyed our home life there until we were forced to evacuate in 1942.
From the above circumstance I cannot refrain from resenting your action of taking away valuable property from a pensioned returned soldier of the last war who fought for Canada for the purpose of giving the same to another soldier who is returning from the present war.
On the above ground, I hereby lodge my protest to you and the Custodian for the action taken on my said property.
Yours truly,
Zennosuke Inouye

The irony was not lost on Inouye, who campaigned vigorously during and after the war to get his property back. "Your petitioner believes," he told Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1944, "that his loyalty to Canada has been well tested in the great war, and that it does not seem fair for the government to take away from one ex–service man a property so dear to him in order that it may be given to [a] soldier returning from the present war."


Soldier Settlement and Veterans Land Act letter

Major-General W.W. Foster

Inouye never took his case to court but after the war he appealed for support to his old commanding officer, Major-General W.W. Foster, and to the Canadian Legion. He also presented his case to the Royal Commission on Japanese–Canadian Claims headed by Justice Henry Irvine Bird, another veteran of the Great War. Bird responded favourably to Inouye"s appeal, as did Milton Gregg, who had won the Victoria Cross in the Great War and became Minister of Veterans Affairs in 1948. Foster is on the left, Gregg on the right.

Milton Gregg

In 1949 Inouye's property on Sandell Road was restored to him. This was exceptional. He was, as far as been determined, the only Japanese-Canadian veteran to recover property from the Government of Canada.


Zennosuke Inouye"s long campaign for the restoration of what was rightfully his is an important episode in the history of British Columbia and Canada. This is the story of the little man who confronts entrenched authority and wins. It is the essence of a democracy. The lives of Zennosuke and Hatsuno Inouye and their family have many lessons for Canadians. That story reminds us vividly of events that must never be forgotten.


Zennosuke Inouye had petitioned furiously to regain his land, which he felt was rightfully his. The following are a few of the letters Inouye wrote during and after the war in his attempt to recover his land. Others are responses to a few of his many letters. Some show support, others give reasons for the delays in acting on his protests.


Nov. 28th, 1945
Mr. J. B. Pickersgill,
Department of Labour
Japanese Division,
Vancouver, B. C.
Dear Mr. Pickersgill,


I am an ex–service man of Japanese origin who served in the P.P.C.I. and the 52nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Last Great War and I am a pensioner due to war disabilities. Upon returning from overseas, I acquired 80 Acres of wild uncultivated land which is known and described as S1/4 of Sec.32, T.P. 2, in the District of New Westminster in the Municipality of Surrey. By strenuous and faithful through 23 years on my part, 32 Acres of this land was cleared out of which 20 acres became valuable productive small fruit farmland; two dwelling houses, two root houses, a barn and a woodshed were built there and I raised my family there, and all of my 5 children were born and brought up there.


As you know due to the War with Japan, my family and I have been evacuated from our home and at the present time we are residing in Vernon. Quite some time ago, I have been informed by the Custodian of the Secretary of State to the effect that the above property was sold and transferred to the Director of the Veterans Land Act. This transaction has been made without any consultation to me and without my consent.


I believe that my loyalty to the Dominion of Canada has been well tested in the Great War, and that it does not seem fair for the government to take away from one ex-soldier a property so dear to him in order that it may be given to soldier returning from the present war. Please remember that there will be quite a number of Japanese Canadians returning after this one.


I always had the understanding that my family and I were evacuated from the coast only for the duration of the War. As hostilities are now over, my family and I are praying that someday soon we shall one again live among our good neighbours and friends we used to know.


This may not seem necessary but I thought it might help. I lived about seven miles from Tom Reid (MP) and I know him quite well and at one time my boys were class students to Mr. Reid's son.


I hear that Japanese who came to Vernon after December of 1941 must venture east early next year. I sincerely hope that special consideration could be done whereby we might be able to stay. I am doing by best by calling on proper authorities here.


My family and I pray, therefore, from the above circumstances that special considerations will be given these matters.


I remain,
Very truly yours,
Zennosuke Inouye


Letter of J.B. Pickersgill

This letter to MP Tom Reid is a request for his support.


Vernon, B.C.
December 4, 1947


Mr. Tom Reid, M.P., New Westminster, B.C.


How do you do. As you are aware, the Dominion Government has outlined a Commission to investigate the Loss of Claims of the Japanese Evacuees. I would like to ask you for your help and consideration on this matter as of my case. I am an ex-service man who served in the {P.P.C.I. and the 52nd. Battalion of the Canadian expeditionary Forces in the First World War, and I am a pensioner due to war disabilities.


After returning from the overseas service in 1919, I acquired from the Soldier Settlement Board 80 Acres of wild uncultivated land which is known and described as S1/2 of NW1/4 of Sec. 32, TP. 2 in the District of New Westminster in the Municipality of Surrey. By strenuous and faithful labour through twenty–five years, 32 acres of this land were cleared out of which about 25 acres became valuable productive small fruit farmland; there I had brought up my family.


Due to the recent struggle, my family and I were forced to evacuate the Coastal Area of British Columbia.


During my absence from New Westminster, I was informed by the Custodian of the Department of the Secretary of State to the effect that the above described property was sold and transferred to the Directory of the Veteran's Land Act, for the purpose of rehabilitation of the veterans who have returned from the recent struggle. This transaction has been made without any consultation and without my consent.


I believe my loyalty to Canada has been well tested in the 1st Great War, and that it does not seem fair for the Government of Canada to take away from one ex–service man a property so dear to him in order that it may be given to another soldier returning from the recent struggle. Mr. Reid, that place back on the Sandell Road means everything to me. It's like having my whole life's work and accomplishment taken away from me.


Two of my boys were at one time class students to you son, Adam, and my youngest son was classmate to your younger daughter at Queen Elizabeth High School. I should like very much to return to the above home; and if circumstances make it undesirable for me and my family to return, I should like a just and fair compensation whereby I may start again elsewhere.


Although I am receiving the aid of the Canadian Legion her in town; to further bring this complication to an end, I have asked you for your help.


Trusting that I am not asking for too much of your help,
I beg to remain,
Very truly yours,
Z. Inouye


This is Tom Reid's response to the letter above.

Tom Reid's letter 1947


This is a response by the Japanese Property Claims Commission to Mr. Inouye's letter.


Response letter

Source



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