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Ontario's Japanese History
Early Japanese Immigration

Japanese immigration to Canada is a shorter story than those of many other cultural groups, but just as rich and full of detail. The first Japanese-Canadian immigrant was Manzo Nagano in 1877, who landed in British Columbia and stayed on the west coast for much of his life. Many of his descendants live in Canada or the United States.

The first Japanese-Ontarian is harder to trace: this wonderful timeline from Canadian Nikkei has traced the first Japanese-Canadian to live in Alberta, but makes no mention of Ontario before the 1940s. You'll read on the next page about internment during World War II.

Some sources say the first Japanese-Manitoban, Terukichi Umehara, moved to Ontario sometime after 1906, but not precisely when. The Canadian Encyclopedia says that some Japanese families moved to Ontario in the 1920s and 1930s to find work during the Depression, as racism in British Columbia meant many Japanese-Canadians had a hard time getting hired outside their own communities.

We also know that some Japanese families sent their children to school in Ontario in the 1920s. For example, at the Ontario Ladies' College in 1925, we know a student from a prominent Tokyo family was enrolled: Hama Kobayashi. The art teacher at the school drew her portrait. Unfortunately, she died while attending; we have a photograph of attendees at her funeral.

Japanese emigrants have their own terminology to describe immigrants and settlers: Issei, Nisei, and Sansei describe the first three generations. Issei are people from Japan who settle elsewhere; Nisei are the first generation born to Issei on foreign soil; Sansei are the second generation. We'll use these terms throughout this exhibit.

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