Dismantling the Japanese-Canadian Fishing Industry in the West

The Growth of a Community

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries thousands of Japanese immigrated to the west coast of Canada looking for new opportunities. Many of these immigrants were skilled labourers, particularly within the fishing and agricultural industries. They sought jobs within these trades and settled in communities along the coast and within the mainland to build their new lives.[1]

Despite the efforts of these new Canadians, they were ostracized by the predominantly white community who feared the success of the Japanese-Canadian community and its impact on the status quo. Several times this fear erupted in the form of sanctions from the government and riots among the people.[2]

An Inciting Event

The anti-Japanese sentiment that had been growing in Canada came to a head on the night of December 7th, 1941 when Japan attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbour. Within hours the Canadian Navy had assembled and began to collect the Japanese-Canadian owned fishing vessels from along the coast as a defensive measure.[3] These boats were transported to New Westminster where they were moored until being auctioned by the Custodian of Enemy Property. [4]

This “Notice of Sale” contains a list of Japanese-Canadian fishing vessels that were sold by the Custodian of Enemy Property during the early period of internment. It was published in the New Westminster Columbian in March 1942. F.G. Shears Collection, Cheng Yu Tang East Asian Library, University of Toronto.

A Notice of Sale

The Notice of Sale, pictured above, was published by the Custodian of Enemy Property, the overseer of enemy aliens, as part of their program to sell all seized Japanese-Canadian goods and property. The profit of the boat sales, which was minimal as the vessels were sold at a fraction of their true value, was used to fund the internment of the Japanese-Canadians and was not returned directly to the fishermen.[5]

The notice’s list of boats, a small fraction of those seized, demonstrates the actions that were taken by the government to remove the Japanese-Canadians from the Canadian fishing trade. Along with the seizure and sale of the fishing vessels, the government prohibited Japanese-Canadians from fishing for the duration of World War Two.[6]

The Impact of Internment

The actions taken against Japanese-Canadians during internment resulted in the dismantling of their community. In the years that followed World War Two, the displaced peoples were provided with few resources to rebuild their lives as their homes, businesses and personal belongings had been auctioned off and used to pay for their internment. With little to go back to, many Japanese-Canadians sought a new life west of the Rocky Mountains, in Ontario, Quebec and across the prairies.[7]

Although the Japanese-Canadian community was spread across the country in the years after internment, its members influenced discussions on racism and redress which have shaped our shared identity as Canadians.[8]


Samantha Eadie is a masters student in the Museum Studies program in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. She is interested in the practices and methodologies of art curation and collection management. Samantha received her Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in art history at the University of Manitoba in 2014 before going on to complete a post-graduate certificate in Museum Management and Curatorship at Fleming College.

[1] Gomer Sunahara, 1981, p. 5, 8.

[2] Hickman & Fukawa, 2012, p. 28; Centre for Constitutional Studies: University of Alberta, 2008.

[3] Gomer Sunahara, 1981, p. 24.

[4] Sedai: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, n.d.

[5] Royal B.C. Museum, n.d.

[6] Gomer Sunahara, 1981, p. 30.

[7], n.d.

[8] Miki, 2004, p. xi.

Their homes, businesses and personal belongings had been auctioned off and used to pay for their internment.