Historica Canada’s latest Heritage Minute, which airs Wednesday, Feb. 20, features some very familiar scenery while telling the stories of the Asahi and the Japanese internment camps of the Second World War.
Created in 1914, the Asahi was an amateur baseball club based in Vancouver that featured an entirely Japanese Canadian roster.
“Due to racism, a lot of Japanese Canadians couldn’t join Caucasian teams in Vancouver, so they created their own team,” explained Ryan Ellan, founder of the Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum. “The best of the best played for them. They were probably the best team in Vancouver.”
“On the streets we weren’t welcome, but on the field, we were the Asahi, Vancouver’s champions,” recalls Kaye Kaminishi, the last living member of the Asahi, in the new Heritage Minute.
Quickly championing a style of play called “brainball” that utilized bunts, squeeze plays, and stolen bases to counter the power hitting style of most known teams, the Asahi were known for their sportsmanship and fair play approach.
And for almost three decades the Asahi ran bases and scored home runs while touring Canada, the United States, and Japan, winning games and championships along the way.
But on December 7, 1941, Canada declared war on Japan, and everything changed. On February 24, 22,000 Japanese Canadians—14,000 of whom were born in the country—were uprooted from their homes and moved into internment camps, which was essentially a sentence of poverty and slave labour.
Of all internment camps in Canada, the largest was Tashme, which was located in what’s now known as Sunshine Valley, approximately 20 kilometres southeast of Hope. Over the course of four years, more than 2,600 Japanese were interned at Tashme, which spanned 1,200 acres of land.
Although separated in internment camps across the province, many Asahi members formed baseball teams, and eventually an inter-camp league. Many of those interned remember these games as a bright spot that helped bring joy into this dark period in Canadian history.
“But what a lot of people don’t know or forget is the section of highway from Princeton to Hope was made with Japanese slave labour during the Second World War. Most of Hope’s (current) Japanese families had members in Tashme,” continued Ellan.
“Historica Canada always picks these obscure pieces of history that we might not have been exposed to prior … (but) we’re not taught proper history and there are two sides to every story. So what I really like about this Asahi (Heritage Minute) is it’s a two-part story: the first 30 seconds explain the history of the Asahi, the second 30 seconds explain internment.”
“Each Heritage Minute tells a different story,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada. “Some highlight the impressive achievements of Canadians and some encourage reflection on injustices of the past.”
To ensure the legitimacy and authenticity of the short film, Historica Canada hired Ellan as a Tashme historical consultant, and Grace Eiko Thomson, who previously worked for the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) and the Nikkei National Museum, as the costume designer.
“My role was to make sure the props, setup, vehicles being used were correct to Tashme,” explained Ellan. “During filming I asked … the director to give me a 10-minute break. I pulled out two original school benches and a bat that had been used in Tashme (to be used as props during filming). That brought quite a few tears to the cast and crew.”
Having had a sneak preview before the Asahi Heritage Minute aired for the first time, Ellan says the final product is “amazing.”
To view Historica Canada’s latest Heritage Minute, visit https://youtu.be/wBv-MYAf9P0.
For more information on the Tashme internment camp, visit Tashme.ca.