Sugar-beet exhibit to explore Second World War internment of Japanese Canadians

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      Although sugar may be associated with enjoyment and pleasure, it has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Due to everything from its role in the North American obesity epidemic to its lack of classification as a drug (despite the numerous properties that qualify it as one), the dark side of sugar has been increasingly coming to light.

      It's fitting then that a new museum exhibit will take a look at the connection that a seemingly harmless source of sugar had to an unjust chapter in Canadian history.   

      Vancouver architect Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon will be using the substance to transform Burnaby's Nikkei National Museum while simultaneously illuminating a dark chapter in Canada's history.

      In the exhibit Beta Vulgaris: The Sugar Beet Projects, McKinnon will transform the museum into a Japanese rock garden made from sugar.

      The display will feature boulders made from molten, burnt, and sculpted sugar with a wooden boardwalk across a landscape that will mirror the sugar-beet fields of southern Alberta. Video images will be projected on to various surfaces and be accompanied by a contemporary koto soundtrack performed by Keri Latimer.

      When Japanese Canadians were removed from the B.C. coast and interned during the Second World War, they were relocated to a number of rural destinations.

      Among them were farms for sugar beets, which contain high concentrations of sucrose and contribute to the production of table sugar. If interned Japanese Canadians chose to move to the Canadian Prairies or Ontario to work on farms to address labour shortages, their families would be allowed to remain together. Consequently, the B.C. Securities Commission Council organized the "Sugar Beet Projects".  

      McKinnon is a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian whose family history was affected by the internment.

      The exhibit will be on display at the museum (6688 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby) from February 10 to May 27.

      The opening ceremony on February 10 and an artist talk on March 10 will both include live music by Keri Latimer and a tea ceremony by Maiko Behr.

      A film screening of "Facing Injustice: the Relocation of Japanese Canadians to Manitoba" will be held on March 3. The film details Japanese Canadians who were moved to Manitoba to be placed in substandard or poor living conditions that lacked running water or electricity.

      Two workshops will be held: one about making musical instruments for children (March 11) and another on making wagashi, which are traditional Japanese confections (April 7).

      For full details, visit the National Nikkei Museum website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook

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