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On her final morning in the only home she had ever known, 11-year-old Michiko Ishii awoke to a household bundled into a few trunks.

The day before, her mother had come home from shopping in Vancouver's Little Tokyo neighbourhood with an announcement: "We've got our orders. We're leaving tomorrow."

Like thousands of other residents of Japanese descent, the Ishii family was being uprooted and expelled to internment camps in the B.C. Interior. Michiko's father and older brother had already been ordered from their rented home, with its vegetable patch and backyard apple tree, on East Georgia Street.

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Suitcases were crammed with clothing and bedding for Michiko, her mother and two other brothers.

The weight allowance was 68 kilograms for an adult, half that for a child, and the decisions about what to take were heartbreaking. Mother's silk kimonos -- keep. Brother's heirloom porcelain dolls, a gift at his birth from wealthy relatives in Japan -- discard.

After six decades, the anguish of those choices remains fresh.

Midge Ayukawa, as Michiko Ishii is now known, lives in Victoria and is a historian with impressive credentials. At 75, she is a grandmother, too, and the memory of that day revives in her a child's question for which there will never be an answer: How could Mother not have kept her son's heirloom dolls?

In 1942, similarly wrenching decisions were forced on families throughout British Columbia. Just weeks after Imperial Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, residents of Japanese ancestry -- foreign nationals, naturalized Canadians and native-born Canadians alike -- were declared to be enemy aliens and ordered by the federal government to abandon their lives on the West Coast.

About 22,000 men, women and children were forced to report to camps in the Interior, or to farms on the Prairies and in Ontario. Most of the uprooted were Canadians. The government called it an evacuation. Writer Roy Miki, born in internal exile on a Manitoba sugar-beet farm, has called it "dispossession, deportation, dispersal and assimilation." Many felt they were being convicted and punished without having committed any crime.

A federal order-in-council defined a 160-kilometre "protected area" along the B.C. coast. Another order-in-council authorized the removal of residents based on race rather than citizenship.

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Nor did their war end with the military defeat of Japan 60 years ago this month. The Canadian government pursued a postwar policy reflected in Liberal cabinet minister Ian Mackenzie's earlier campaign slogan: "No Japs from the Rockies to the sea."

In 1945, the choice for those of Japanese ancestry was stark: Move to eastern Canada or be "repatriated" to Japan, a devastated land which most had never seen. Not until 1949 were restrictions on the movement of Japanese-Canadians removed.

"It was a traumatic time," Mrs. Ayukawa says simply.

The drama of the Ishii household was repeated among families of farmers on Salt Spring Island and millworkers in Courtenay. Fishermen on the Skeena and Fraser Rivers surrendered their seiners and trawlers; about 1,800 boats were seized. Businesses near Powell Street in thriving Little Tokyo, or Nihonmachi, were sold or shuttered: banks, insurers, green grocers, tea merchants, funeral parlours, dry-goods importers.

Baseball players of the storied Asahi team, neighbourhood heroes who had triumphed over more physically imposing white players, were sent on a road trip from which they would never return.

Michiko's father, Kenji, a hard-working carpenter, loved to watch the Asahi in action, buying dime tickets to the games at the Powell Street Grounds (now Oppenheimer Park) and often taking his daughter.

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For two years, the Ishii family had saved to buy a home of their own. They were rewarded for their thrift by having their bank account seized. The Custodian of Enemy Property later sold off land, homes, trucks, automobiles and fishing boats at bargain-basement prices and without the permission of the owners. The proceeds covered the costs of the relocation, forcing the exiled to pay for their own involuntary internment.

Michiko had been a star Grade 7 pupil at Vancouver's Strathcona Elementary School. The memory of the day she had to leave is delivered in vignettes: breakfast with Italian neighbours; a first train trip; an introduction to the delights of root beer; a reunion with her father and older brother at the Popoff camp in the Slocan Valley.

Others were less fortunate. Many spent weeks living in the livestock barns at Hastings Park in Vancouver. Men who protested against being separated from their families were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp at Angler in Northern Ontario, where they wore uniforms with a large orange target on the back.

Eight internment camps were located in the Kootenays, most in the picturesque Slocan Valley where evocative camp names -- Rosebery, Bay Farm, Lemon Creek -- belied harsh conditions. At Greenwood, a copper boom town gone bust, the relocated were housed in deserted hotels.

The reunited Ishii family's new home was a tent open to the ground at Popoff. After several months, the family of six moved to a three-room shack at Lemon Creek, where they tended a vegetable patch in summer. In winter, the heat of a wood stove caused the green timber used in construction to warp and shrink, exposing drafty holes to be covered by tarpaper.

A rice shortage forced a change in diet. Michiko and her mother baked bread in pans fashioned from stovepipe. The camp lacked electricity and running water. Michiko studied by the light of a single oil lamp. After several months, during which younger students were tutored by their parents and older siblings, classes were at last opened by authorities.

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Over at Slocan City, the smiling children's faces in a class photograph included future novelist Joy Kogawa ( Obasan) in the front row and future geneticist and broadcaster David Suzuki ( The Nature of Things) in the back.

The routine of daily life was broken up by pageants, harmonica bands, baseball tournaments and chrysanthemum-growing clubs.

In some ways, Michiko Ishii's war began at her birth in Vancouver in 1930. Anti-Japanese sentiment was strong and the community's birth rate was seen by some white politicians as a threat.

The province had disenfranchised Japanese-Canadians in 1895, which prevented even those born in Canada from practising law or medicine. Other laws barred them from working in the mines or from working with timber crews on Crown land. A rally by the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1907 was followed by a mob assault on Little Tokyo, where armed residents defended their property.

Official reasons given for the 1942 expulsion varied: The internment camps would supposedly protect them from whites enraged by Japanese atrocities in the war, or they would prevent sabotage by a suspected fifth column. Yet military and law-enforcement officials told the federal government that the B.C. Japanese community posed little danger of disloyalty.

The feeling among those caught in the dragnet was captured by the title of Ken Adachi's landmark 1976 book, The Enemy That Never Was.

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After the surrender of Japan in August, 1945, the Ishii family, still barred from the coast, moved to an abandoned POW camp at Neys in Northern Ontario. Later they lived in Hamilton, and Kenji Ishii found work in a cannery. (He died of a heart condition in 1971; his wife, Masayo, died four years ago at age 100.) Michiko completed high school in Hamilton, where she was dubbed Midge. She earned an honours degree in chemistry at McMaster University in 1952; completed a master's degree the following year; and took a job with the National Research Council in Ottawa. In 1997, she received a doctorate in history from the University of Victoria, where she now lives.

In 1955, she married Kaoru (Karl) Ayukawa, the Vancouver-born son of a sawmill owner. Her husband's family was bitter about losing their business and property during internment. Karl once made a pilgrimage to the family's old home in Mission, B.C., only to have the new owner slam the door in his face.

Mr. Ayukawa died of cancer in 1981, seven years before a lobbying effort at last won redress for the internees. Then prime minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the government of Canada, which offered a $300-million compensation package, including a $21,000 payment to each of the survivors of the evacuation.

Many years after being evicted, Mrs. Ayukawa tried to track down her brother's dolls, which had been given to the librarian at her elementary school. She didn't find them.

In her last moments at the house on East Georgia in 1942, her mother had spotted another doll about to be left behind. It was her daughter's favourite.

"Don't you want it? " her mother asked.

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"No," Michiko replied.

To this day, she is not sure why she abandoned her own doll.

"Maybe because it was Japanese," she says, "and that was the cause of all this."

Uprooted lives

Starting in 1942, 22,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry were declared to be enemy aliens and forced by the Canadian government to abandon their homes and live in hardship in camps and on farms. A federal order-in-council defined a 160-kilometre "protected area" along the B.C. coast.

Internment camps:

1. Tashme

2. Greenwood

3. Slocan City

4. Lemon Creek

5. Popoff

6. Bay Farm

7. Rosebery

8. New Denver

9. Sandon

10. Kaslo

Self-supporting projects:

A. Lilloet

B. Bridge River

C. Minto City

D. McGillivary Falls

E. Christina Lake

Road camp projects:

F. Hope -- Princeton

G. Revelstoke -- Sicamous

Blue Water- Yellowhead


The Pacific War

As we approach the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, marking Japan's surrender and the end of the Second World War, this daily series prepared by The Globe and Mail in conjunction with the Dominion Institute and its Memory Project will present an array of stories that illustrate how the conflict changed so many lives forever.

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