Working in a sugar beet field in southern Alberta, 1938.

© 2014, Galt Museum & Archives. All Rights Reserved.


Four generations of Japanese Canadians have made southern Alberta their home:  the Issei, Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei. There were also the Idosha, those who were interned and relocated from Canada’s west coast during the Second World War. Another wave of Japanese people, the Shin-Issei, immigrated to Canada starting in the 1960s. 

Japanese Canadians, the Issei or the first generation, started arriving in southern Alberta in the early 1900s. Many found work in the sugar beet fields or the coal mines. Some stayed and bought land and raised their children in southern Alberta. Many of the Issei arrived prior to the First World War.

The Nisei were the second generation, the children of the Issei. Many were Canadian-born and Canadian-educated. They were taught by their elders to obey the laws and be good Canadian citizens. To be accepted in Canadian society, they had to assimilate into the Anglo-Canadian culture.

The Sansei were the third generation, children of the Nisei. Most are not old enough to remember the events of World War II, which were rarely discussed by relatives and family. Most Sansei were raised in homes in which, except for food, there were few visible evidences of Japanese culture.

The fourth generation, the Yonsei, gets further away from their cultural roots but their ethnicity is written upon their faces, and they are still subject to subtle forms of racism and exclusion.  

With the advent of the Second World War, many Japanese Canadians were uprooted and interned in detention camps in British Columbia and Ontario for the duration of the war. Some were relocated to farms (particularly sugar beet farms) in southern Alberta to help with the shortage of labour during the war.
These photographs and objects, from the Galt Museum & Archives in southern Alberta, highlight the stories and challenges primarily of the Issei and Idosha.

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