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The Japanese Methodist Mission, which later became Vancouver Japanese United, was established in 1896. This photo shows a kindergarten class in the 1910s. (Photo: Bob Stewart Archives, Pacific Mountain Region, Ctrl. No.: P-37/2/36)

Vancouver Japanese United Church reveals plans for compensation money

Some members of a former English-speaking congregation that once worshipped in the building were unhappy about stated plans for $500,000 the church received

By Emma Prestwich

A Vancouver United church that received $500,000 in compensation from the denomination and B.C. Conference in November plans to use some of the money to make a website about its history.

During the Second World War, the federal government exiled members of Vancouver Japanese United from the B.C. coast, many to the province’s interior. When they returned years later, they found their church unusable, and many possessions were missing. The United Church later sold the original building without the members’ permission.

Keiko Norisue, who is on the church’s board, said in November that the congregation hoped the compensation would go toward renovating the aging building they worship in today, including updating the kitchen and electrical systems.

But some members of an English-speaking congregation that worshipped in the same building until it disbanded in 2017 were unhappy with those plans. A number of them were also descendants of church members who were interned. “They felt that the money should be spent on something that would help the ones that were displaced,” says Norisue.

So members of both the Japanese- and English-speaking congregations approached Blair Galston, the archivist for Pacific Mountain Region, to see if he could help them create a website about Vancouver Japanese United’s history, which dates back to 1896. (Norisue says she hopes that eventually some of the money remaining can still go toward renovations.)

Galston was delighted to help with the research project. He was already planning to digitize some of the church’s records and had been looking for funding. “We actually have a fairly rich collection of photos from the early 20th century from that congregation,” he says. “It’s kind of an underutilized collection, so this will help draw people into the story.”

The plan is to digitize almost 800 photos and up to 50 documents, and Galston also wants to identify people who might have materials to donate, especially as the pre-war members and even their children pass away. “Time is of the essence,” he says.

This story first appeared in The United Church Observer's March/April issue with the title "Japanese church preserves history." For more of The Observer's award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.  

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