|Saburo Shinobu was born Saburo Takahashi on August 25, 1888 in Sanuma, Japan. His father was Shingoro Nakanome and he had six siblings, two brothers and four sisters. Saburo was arranged to be married to Sada Shinobu, taking her family’s last name as the Shinobus had no male heir. In return as the eldest son, Saburo would pursue a medical education in Canada with the support of Sada’s uncle, Chiyoji, and return to Japan to marry Sada and start a practice. Saburo moved to New Westminster, BC in 1907. However Chiyoji’s business in Canada failed and he moved with his family to California, leaving Saburo on his own in Canada and unable to attend medical school. Despite the change of plans, Saburo and Sada’s arranged marriage still went ahead and Sada came to join him in Canada in 1917.
Saburo learned English through secondary school and on May 26, 1917, he took an oath of naturalization. In 1917, Saburo began working with the Canadian Japanese Association, helping to enlist Japanese Canadians to serve in the First World War and supporting them through rehabilitation when they returned. Saburo Shinobu led the struggle to obtain the franchise for Japanese Canadian First World War soldiers, gathering support from Canadian Legion members at conventions. In 1931, he travelled with three fellow Legion members to the BC Legislature in Victoria and successfully lobbied for the cause with Japanese Canadian First World War veterans gaining the franchise by a single vote on April 1, 1931.
Saburo was recognized many times for his ongoing support of Japanese Canadian veterans. He was invited to give the opening speech in English at the unveiling of the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park on April 9, 1920. In 1935, he was made an honorary member of the Canadian Legion, the seventh person in Canada to receive the award. In 1936, Saburo was invited to join veterans on a pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge for the unveiling of the memorial.
Saburo studied at the University of Toronto through correspondence courses and became the first Canadian of Japanese origin to earn the degree of Chartered Life Underwriter. In 1924, he began working for Manufacturers Life Insurance and sold insurance to Nikkei across BC.
Sada Shinobu was born on July 21, 1889 in Ishinomori, Tomegun, Miyagi-ken, Japan. Her parents were Yaoji Shinobu and Chicano Yuza, and Sada was the eldest of three daughters. Sada was arranged to be married to Saburo Shinobu, who immigrated to Canada in 1907, but the marriage would not occur for another ten years.
While still in Japan, Sada attended a domestic arts school and worked as a teacher of domestic arts. Sada was a gifted seamstress and artist, and one of her most prominent needlework students in Japan was Princess Itsuko Nashimoto, a member of the Japanese Royal Family. Sada joined Saburo in Canada in 1917, arriving on October 25th, and they were officially married. Sada and Saburo had three children: Eiichi (Walter, born 1918), Ryohei (Roy, born 1920), and Kazuko (born 1924).
In 1937, Sada established the Girls’ College of Practical Arts and served as Principal. Through her college, she taught art, needlework, dressmaking, flower making and arranging, and etiquette to Nikkei women.
In 1942, with the outbreak of World War II and the Canadian government’s order-in-council, the Shinobu family was forcibly relocated to an internment camp in Kaslo, BC, where they were interned from 1942 to 1945. The family was not permitted to move back to Vancouver so Saburo and Sada moved to Toronto, ON in 1945 where their youngest son and daughter had enrolled in school.
Saburo re-established his insurance business in Toronto. He died in 1956 and his wife, Sada wrote a compilation of his life and contributions to the Japanese Canadian community, which is housed at Library and Archives Canada.
Sada later lived with the families of her two youngest children before moving to Nipponia Home in Beamsville, ON and a long-term care home in Don Mills, ON. Sada died in 1977.