Eikichi Kagetsu came to Canada from Japan in the early 1900s and built an empire. He owned property in the Vancouver region, a railway, a logging operation and an oyster company. He was a prominent figure who often met with elites visiting from Japan, including the country's royal family.
And then, in 1943, it was all taken away – as the federal government seized the property of Mr. Kagetsu and other Japanese Canadians during the Second World War
Mr. Kagetsu's life will now be among those featured in a multimillion-dollar research project, led by the University of Victoria, that is trying to recover and share the personal stories of Japanese Canadians who had their property seized and sold by the government.
"The uprooting, internment and dispossession of Japanese Canadians is this experience that was shared by thousands of people, but it's also a highly individual experience," said Jordan Stanger-Ross, a University of Victoria professor and the director of the Landscapes of Injustice project. "In some sense, the dispossession was as diverse as the people who lost their property."
The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby, a partner in the Landscapes of Injustice project, has acquired more than 90 kilograms worth of items, photos and documents that will help them tell Mr. Kagetsu's story.
He was one of thousands of Japanese Canadians affected by an order that allowed the government to sell the possessions – homes, businesses or personal belongings – of people of Japanese descent who were forced from coastal British Columbia and incarcerated.
The government of the day said such a measure was a "military necessity."
"The family is happy to make the donation and we support the efforts of this project," said Nolan Kagetsu, Eikichi Kagetsu's grandson.
He thinks it is important for Canadians to understand this piece of history.
Sherri Kajiwara, a director and curator at the museum, says the museum has a small staff, which makes it difficult for it to do more than archive the new material they have received.
She appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from Landscapes of Injustice, who can analyze and contextualize the materials that have been acquired.
This, she says, is what will make the donation useful.
"This [project] is bringing together many diverse stories into basically one big history and putting it into context," Ms. Kajiwara said.
"This is one contribution to the massive archive and oral histories are being collected."
Landscapes of Injustice will eventually result in a touring exhibit, staged in partnership with the Nikkei centre, that is set to launch across the country in 2021.
It will draw on its findings to develop teaching materials, applicable Canada-wide for primary and secondary teachers to draw on when educating students about this piece of a history.
Dr. Stanger-Ross says that by looking specifically at the dispossession of property, teachers will be able to get at issues and questions even children will be able to relate to – about the concepts of "value" and of "home."
"What is the loss of home? As a specific aspect within the larger displacement of people. Japanese Canadians were uprooted and interned, I think that history is better known and better conceived by Canadians," he said.
"But Japanese Canadians also lost their homes.
"What does it mean to lose your home?"
Beyond the school system, Ms. Kajiwara thinks the project and this issues it raises is by no means irrelevant to Canadians, even decades later.
"It is really a story of human rights. It's a story of social justice. It's a story of how horribly wrong racist-led fear can affect a community and a country," she said, noting that Canada takes pride in being a fair democracy and multicultural country.
"In modern day, with the various international strifes – terrorism, refugees, wars – the issues of isolating any one individual community, the danger of that still exists."