“Strategic Withdrawal to Prepared Positions”

A “Comic” Commentary on a Sobering Reality

Political cartoon by artist Les Callan, printed January 21, 1942 in the Vancouver Sun.
Source: F. G. Shears Collection, Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Portrait of the Artist

Les Callan was a cartoonist with the Canadian Armed Forces Newspaper, The Maple Leaf and was best known for the “Monty and Johnny[1]” cartoon series, satirizing daily life on the front. The cartoon above was published in the weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbor while the government deliberated on the so-called “Yellow Peril”, or the perceived threat of Japanese immigrants residing on British Columbia’s coast[2]. Whatever Callan’s own beliefs, his racialized depiction of the forced migration of over 20,000 Japanese Canadians is an alarming depiction of the racial animosity of the time.

Pearl Harbor and Japanese Canadians

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor[3] on December 7, 1941, life for Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia would change dramatically. Extreme fear of collusion intensified anti-Japanese sentiment[4] and in the following weeks, led by Federal Cabinet Minister Ian Mackenzie, citizens, newspapers, and politicians began to call for the removal of all Japanese people from British Columbia’s coastal regions.[5]

Forced From Their Homes

On March 4, 1952, Minister Mackenzie finally fulfilled his campaign promise of “no Japs from the Rockies to the sea”[6]: 20,881 Japanese residents were summarily rounded up and sent to internment camps. Unlike Callan’s cartoon, which seems to depict an orderly, amiable move, hand in hand with the RCMP, the experience for Japanese Canadians was lengthy and harsh. Hundreds of families were packed into overcrowded livestock barns for months at a time, before being loaded onto trains heading to the camps[7].

Winter at Tashme Internment Camp. One of the largest camps, Tashme housed 2,636 people.
Source: From Sedai: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project,

Life in the Camps

The camps were merely hastily constructed shantytowns. Former resident Yukiharu Misuyabu[8] remembers: “The walls of our shack were one layer of thin wooden board covered with two-ply paper sandwiching a flimsy layer of tar. There was no ceiling below the roof. In the winter, moisture condensed on the inside of the cold walls and turned to ice” [8]. There they lived until December of 1945, a full four months after the Japan’s surrender[9].

The Point of No Return

Unfortunately, by this time, anti-Japanese sentiment in British Columbia was so pervasive that politicians barred the return of Japanese Canadians to the province, offering them the choice of returning to Japan or moving “east of the Rockies”[10]. Their belongings, businesses, and homes having been sold to pay for their own internment, the camps’ residents began to disperse. Many went east toward Ontario, but over 4,000 Japanese-Canadians chose to return to Japan[11]. It was not until March 31, 1949 that all travel bans were finally lifted[12].

A Lesson for the Future

While Japanese internment may feel like a part of Canada’s history best forgotten, now more than ever, it should be remembered. With growing nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments across the world, examining our past mistakes may prevent us from repeating them.


Leora Bebko is a first year student in the Master of Museum Studies program at UofT, with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from York University. She has spent much of her life traveling and living in different countries, including, France, Japan, and South Korea and it is through these travels that she first became interested in museums. Her time studying in Japan ignited a particular interest in Japanese history, language, and culture.


[2] (Adcock, n.d.; Historicist, n.d.)


[4] (Japanese Internment, n.d.; Sunahara, 1981, p. 30)

[5] (Japanese Internment, n.d.)

[6] (Japanese Internment, n.d.; Sunahara, 1981, p. 47)

[7] (Japanese Canadians, n.d.; Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears, n.d.)


[9] (Japanese Internment, n.d.)

[10] (Fukushima, 1992; Japanese Internment, n.d.; Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears, n.d.)


[12] (Fukushima, 1992; Japanese Internment, n.d.; Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears, n.d.)

Let our slogan be for British Columbia: No Japs from the Rockies to the Sea” -Cabinet Minister Ian Mackenzie