- 1941 - 1988
The fonds consists of the incoming correspondence to Joan Gillis from a group of young Japanese Canadians she met while attending Queen Elizabeth Secondary School in Surrey. The fonds includes 149 letters and 10 small photographs, referred to colloquially as ‘snaps’ in the letters, sent from a total of 13 different correspondents. The majority of the correspondence took place during 1942 to 1946, with different friends writing from farms and work camps in Northern British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta. The letters provide insight into the Japanese Canadian internment, which occurred against the backdrop of a larger cultural context. Since the early 1900s Japanese immigrants and persons of Japanese descent living in Canada were subject to racially targeted legislation, including limits on immigration, limits on fishing licenses, and being denied the right to vote based on racial status.
In the spring of 1941 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) fingerprinted and registered all Japanese Canadians over the age 16, who were required to carry identification cards until 1949. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, Canada declared war on Japan. The Royal Canadian Navy impounded the fishing boats of the Japanese Canadian fishing community, and within two months 1,200 Japanese Canadian owned boats were sold. On February 24th 1942 the federal government authorized the removal of all persons of Japanese origin, and gave the RCMP the power to search without warrant, to impose a dawn to dusk curfew, and to confiscate all cars, radios, firearms, and cameras. Mass forced dispersal and dispossession ensued, with all Japanese Canadians being sent to internment camps, to work on farms, and perform other forms of hard labor, living in very poor conditions through the much colder winters of Canada’s interior.
The letter-writers discuss their day-to-day life at the camps, living and working conditions, their new schools and teachers, and ask after Gillis’ life in Surrey and the on-goings at Queen Elizabeth (Q.E.) secondary school.
Gillis kept the correspondence bound in twine or ribbon, which is also included in the fonds. A government censor opened and read many, if not all of the letters, and many of the envelopes bear a sticker or stamp marking this. Many of the letters are hand-written, some are typed, and some are written on postcards. Listed at the file level is the full name of each correspondent and his or her specific geographical location.