|The following biographical sketch pertains to the individuals most represented in the Tonomura collection. For the complete family tree and full biographical sketch, consult “The Tonomura Family” by Marlene Tonomura. |
This Tonomura family story in Canada begins with Senjiro and Kuni Tonomura:
Senjiro Tonomura (b. 5 Nov 1872, Shiga-ken, Japan; d. 30 Dec 1932, Mission, BC, Canada) married Kuni Yamamura (b. 18 Sep 1971, Shiga-ken, Japan; d. 3 Mar 1959, Shiga-ken, Japan) on 19 May, 1895.
Senjiro and Kuni had four children, two were born in Japan and two were born in Canada:
Moichiro (b. 21 Mar 1898, Shiga-ken, Japan; d. 25 Mar 1989, Vancouver, BC, Canada);
Teiji (b. 27 Oct 1904, Shiga-ken, Japan; d. 30 Aug 1929, Shiga-ken, Japan);
Gaichi (b. 11 Nov 1910, Vancouver, BC, Canada; d. 3 Jun 1938, Vancouver, BC, Canada);
and Sue Margaret (b. 1 Mar 1912, Vancouver, BC, Canada; d. 25 Nov 2010, Vancouver, BC, Canada).
Moichiro Tonomura, the eldest son, married Tsuma Okuno (b. 8 Sept 1898 Shiga-ken, Japan; d. 26 Apr 1978, Vancouver, BC, Canada) on 24 February, 1927 in Shiga-ken, Japan.
Moichiro and Tsuma had five children, the youngest son being John Tonomura. It was John’s wife Marlene who donated the collection:
George Shigeru (b. 28 Feb 1928, Mission, BC, Canada), who married Kinko Yabuki on 22 May, 1950, in Kyoto-Shi, Japan.
Betty Tsuyko (b. 29 Jul 1929, Mission, BC, Canada), who married Maurice A. Barksdale, 30 Jan 1951, Hyogo-ken, Japan.
Jean Mitsuko (b. 4 Mar 1931 Mission, BC, Canada), who married Robert M. Herndon on 25 December, 1951 in Kyoto, Japan and remarried to Douglas M. Moore on 21 Nov 1981 in Washington, USA.
Yoshio (b. 17 Feb 1933 Mission, BC, Canada; d. 21 Feb 1933 Mission, BC, Canada)
John Eiji Tonomura (b. 8 Apr 1935, Mission, BC, Canada; d. 18 Sept 2015, Burnaby, BC, Canada)
In 1894, the Tonomura family built a house in Shiga-ken for their eldest son, Senjiro Tonomura, to start life with his recently married wife, Kuni Yamamura. Senjiro was a textile merchant in Japan. Subsequent economic downturn, however, brought Senjiro to follow the government initiative that encouraged migration to Brazil, Canada, or the United States. In 1901 he traveled to Canada earn money for his family, leaving behind Kuni and his two young sons, Moichiro and Teiji.
Once in Canada, Senjiro began working at the Hastings sawmill. By 1909, he saved enough money to send for Kuni and his oldest son, Moichiro. Teiji soon joined them in Canada and they soon welcomed the births of another son, Gaichi, and their first daughter, Sue. After owning the boarding house on 527 E. Cordova Street, the family moved to Mission, B.C. and purchased land to start a farm to start farming.
Clearing the land and building the farm was an immense task. While his parents and siblings worked on the farm, Moichiro worked in various lumber mills to support the family. With this hard work, the family had enough profit to purchase five more acres of land in the early 1920s.
All the while, the Tonomura children progress through elementary and high school at the Mission Public School. Sue would recall dropping out before grade 10, seeing no point in furthering her education given the racial discrimination in the job market. Following graduation, Teiji took a job hauling railroad ties. The labour was grueling and Teiji soon became ill. He would not recover from this illness. Despite a visit to Japan for rest, his passed away in 1929 at the age of 25.
The passing of Teiji coincided with welcoming new life to the family. In 1928 Moichiro traveled to Japan to take a wife, Tsuma Okuno. They returned to Canada and welcomed their first child, George, in 1928, and second child, Betty, in 1929. Their second daughter, Jean, was born in 1931.
Around that time, in 1930, Senjiro began building the Japanese Buddhist Church across from Oppenheimer Park with Hikojiro Miyagawa, S. Kodama, and Yosokichi Kitagawa. Senjiro received a Document of Honor for this work from the Main Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan. When he passed away in 1932, his funeral was held in the same building.
After his father’s death, Moichiro took over the farm. The third brother, Gaichi, began working for Mr. Hagitt’s garage (“Hagitt Motors”) and later opened his own garage called “Showa Garage” with Steve Enomito and Mas Uchida. Showa Garage was located at the west end of Main Street in Mission. Gaichi, too, soon became sick. He traveled to Japan to see a good doctor. When he returned, however, he did not recover and died in June 1938.
The Tonomura’s only daughter, Sue, married Ralph Tamitaka Yoshida from Haney, BC, in November 1935. It was an arranged marriage. While the couple lived in Port Haney, Ralph worked at the Maple Ridge Co-op while Sue worked on the family farm. Soon they had a young family of two daughters and two sons.
The family’s life was derailed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Sue’s family was sent to Hastings park, forced to leave the house they had renovated only the previous year to accommodate their growing family. They left Port Haney to Hastings Park in July, with four small children and their grandparents. They lived there, in deplorable conditions, for six weeks. Ralph traveled to Tashme a week after being relocated to build a house for the family.
Moichiro’s branch of the family, along with grandmother Kuni, was similarly forced to leave the farm in Mission. The R.C.M.P. gave them forty-eight hours notice to leave to Hastings Park. They were then sent to Lemon Creek. When notified that he would have to leave his property, Moichiro defied the RCMP’s orders. He fought back, refusing to leave the farm in Mission, be separated from his family, and sent to the road camps. In front of his family, the RCMP officers handcuffed him and took him away. He would spend the duration of internment in the Angler prison camp.
Sue’s family arrived in Tashme on August 15th. Later that year, their house would freeze in the cold winter weather. They heated rocks to stay warm. In 1944, Sue welcomed a third son, Ben.
With Moichiro incarcerated in Angler, Tsuma bore the brunt of caring for her four children and mother-in-law. They lived in a small house, made out of wood and tarpaper, without electricity and running water. Life in the camps was precarious and hard. The children attended school in Lemon Creek.
When the war ended, the Tonomura family chose to travel to Japan. Moichiro felt that they had nothing left in Canada, but his relatives still had something in Japan. Unable to return to their home in Port Haney, Sue recalled that she—with five children and pregnant—had no choice but to join them.
After the long journey to Shiga-ken, they were met with further hardship. Japan was in ruins after the war. On the train to Shiga-ken, they covered their faces with scarves; the windows had been bombed out in the war and the suet from the coal smoke was flooding into the train.
Moichiro’s children quickly found work, while John finished his high school. The family participated in the reconstruction of Japan. Betty and Jean worked in the US Occupational Army Base as secretaries, where they would find their first husbands. George would marry Kinko Yabuki; together they would have five children. Kuni passed away in Shiga-ken, Japan, in 1959.
Betty and Jean settled with their husbands in Washington State and Kinko would immigrate to Canada with George in 1967. After high school, John (the youngest) returned to Canada, encouraged by someone who knew of a job opportunity on Powell Street. His goal was to work and saved enough to bring his parents (Moichiro and Tsuma) back to Canada. Marlene Tonomura’s memoir (John’s wife) details his emigration back to Canada and how he built a life in the country of his birth. Marlene likened him to his grandfather, Senjiro, who first emigrated in Canada.
It was 1962 when Moichiro and Kuni returned to Canada. In Japan, they were just starting to make money in a successful yoghurt company. They joined John in his house on Fraser Street, where George would also stay with his family when they first arrived from Japan. The Tonomuras bought a house at 971 E. 30th Street and George’s family would settle in a house just a block away.
A day before moving his parents into their new house, Tsuma had a stroke. She was moved into her new house and confined indoors. After a short stay at Holly Family Hospital, John and Moichiro brought her back home because she was not comfortable living there. She was not able to walk on her own but could sit up for meals and bathe. Moichiro would help her exercise, holding onto her while walking around the inside of the house for half an hour everyday. Her husband would dedicate years to be by her side and never leaving the house himself up until her death.
During this time, Moichiro began attending the Vancouver Gospel Church. Moichiro and Tsuma had been baptized in 1965, at age 60. Moichiro attended the morning services of every Sunday until he was 90.
John and Marlene met in 1968, on the job at Citation Cabinets in Richmond, B.C. They married on December 8, 1979. Marlene details their story in her memoir. John passed in September, 2015.