The first Japanese language school in Canada is now a national historic site.
In receiving the federal designation, the Vancouver Japanese Language School joins the list of places that are of profound importance to the country.
Located in what was once a thriving Japantown, the school goes back to 1906 at a wooden building on Alexander Street.
According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, Japanese immigrants started arriving in Vancouver during the 1880s, and the school was an important link to their culture.
“An anchor of the community, the school served as a place for children to learn and maintain Japanese language skills, parallel to their education in regular public schools,” the foundation recalled.
The designation was announced in June this year by Parks Canada, which manages a network of national historic sites across the country.
An event celebrating the recognition is scheduled to be held at the school Wednesday (November 13).
“It is a rare surviving example of an interwar language school in one of British Columbia's oldest immigrant neighbourhoods,” Parks Canada wrote about the institution.
On its website, the school recalled that under the guidance of then Japanese consult K. Morikawa, a committee in the community was established in 1905 to “establish a school which taught the Japanese language and other general subjects such as math, history and science”.
“In 1928, a new building was built to accommodate the growing needs of the school population as well as the Japanese Canadian community,” the school related, referring to its current location at 487 Alexander Street.
The school was also renamed as the Japanese Hall and Vancouver Japanese Language School to “recognize its critical role as a community and cultural organization”.
Following the outbreak of Second World War, the school was closed, and it was confiscated along with other properties owned by Japanese Canadians.
The school was occupied by the Canadian Armed Forces, and in 1947, half of the property was sold.
The remaining building was then rented to the Army and Navy department store until 1952.
“As a result of the valiant efforts of many in the community who fought to reopen the School, the remaining half of the VJLS property was restored to the Japanese Canadian community in 1953,” the school related.
According to the school, it “stands alone as the only property among any Japanese Canadian private citizen, business or organization to retain ownership after the war”.
“As the one remaining physical and community link from before the war, it symbolized and continues to symbolize the courage, perseverance, and resilient spirit of the Japanese Canadian community,” according to the school.