Hideo Gordon Sakamoto: Autodidact. Optimist. Father. Stoic. Born April 19, 1924 in Vancouver; died April 14, 2020, in Toronto, of septic infection; aged 95.
Hideo Sakamoto was a man of steely will, ingenuity and humility. While hardship and racism shaped both his prospects and his character, he pursued his ambitions with stoicism, determination and integrity.
Hideo was the third of six children of Japanese immigrants Tadayoshi and Machiye Sakamoto. In 1942, he and other Canadians of Japanese heritage were designated enemy aliens, stripped of their rights and sent to live in internment camps in the British Columbia Interior.
Hideo was 18, and sent to build the tar-paper shacks that made up the camps. He later worked in logging camps and joined road crews repairing railway tracks. He was used to hard work, having spent summers working on berry farms since he was 12 to send money home. Somehow, in spite of restrictions, teenaged Hideo managed to cart his CCM bicycle and jazz records to the internment and road camps.
At war’s end, he settled in Toronto. His hopes to attend university had been dashed. Employment was scarce. Turned down for a job in an auto body shop, he went back five times until the owner relented. He was told he could clean the shop floor, but couldn’t show his face at the front counter. Hideo agreed.
Working by day and studying by night, Hideo eventually became a refrigerator serviceman and continued to support his parents and siblings who had also come to Toronto.
He met Teruko Matsui at a bowling party. Smitten yet shy, he lost his nerve dialling her number, but on the third try, he persevered. They picnicked in High Park and fished along the Don River. In 1952, they married and lived in a cold-water flat before buying their first home in Scarborough, Ont. Soon, their daughter Laurie was born, followed by a second, Kerri. Hideo and Terri were inseparable, bonded in their determination to elevate themselves and give their children opportunities they had been denied.
Hideo turned in his coveralls for a suit and tie when he joined the head office of A&P Food Stores. The family moved into a sparkling new bungalow in Etobicoke and, in time, Hideo became the director of engineering.
There was nothing Hideo wouldn’t seek to build, repair or heal. He crafted dressers for his daughters and a bevelled coffee table for the living room. He’d lean under the car hood or sit at his wife’s sewing machine to mend his torn pocket. When one daughter grew ill, he set to fixing her too, preparing special meals every week. He would never give up.
He took his family on summer road trips across North America, towing a 19-foot-long caravan through the Rockies and the Arizona desert to the Pacific coast. In retirement, he and Terri travelled throughout Europe and Asia. They enjoyed dancing and painting watercolours of Japanese landscapes seen in their travels.
When Terri became ill, Hideo cared for her tirelessly to keep her with him as long as he could. After her death in 2011, he missed her deeply. Hideo moved into a retirement home, made new friends and enjoyed visits from his two grandchildren. During the COVID-19 outbreak, he was hospitalized and family could not visit. When his daughters were allowed to see him, they told their father he could rest and join his beloved wife. Giving up was not giving in. He died the following day.
Hideo was a determined optimist, speaking little of his wartime experience. He was grateful to those who’d treated him well and believed his life had been long and good.
Kerri Sakamoto is Hideo’s younger daughter.
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