Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 23 – Japanese community in Lower Mount Pleasant
Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019. So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019. Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.
If you study the few remaining houses in Lower Mount Pleasant (the area north of Broadway) you will notice that they were all built prior to 1914. The pre-WW1 period was one of great growth in Mount Pleasant – its “Golden Age”. After the war, things began to shift. In the 20s and 30s, industrial uses crept southward from False Creek and original settler families (predominately British) moved out and were replaced by immigrant families (like my own Italian immigrant family). Over time, the area declined – buildings aged and were not maintained, and in the 1950s, property-owners successfully petitioned City Council to re-zone the neighbourhood for light industrial development.
Since then, most of the early houses have been replaced by commercial/industrial buildings, but fascinating pockets of the old neighbourhood hang on. This semi-industrial area is often ignored when people discuss the history and historic merit of Mount Pleasant. Few buildings in this area have made it onto the Heritage Register, and even fewer are designated. So, this area is still not on the radar for heritage retention and/or planning.
With the pressure of development of False Creek South, new density zoning, along with plans for a new Broadway subway, there is a lot of pressure for redevelopment and it is increasing at breakneck speed. It is just a matter of time until we see further erosion of heritage resources in the area. But it’s not just about built heritage, the area’s social and cultural history is also surprisingly very rich.
This area (see above) was at the centre of the Japanese-Canadian community in Mount Pleasant. The 1941 census revealed that the largest non-British ethnic group in Mount Pleasant and Fairview was Japanese at 1,400 people. In fact, Mount Pleasant/Fairview on the south shore of False Creek was the second-largest Japanese Canadian community outside of Japantown centered on Powell St.
Many Issei and Nisei came to work in the industries along the south shore of False Creek. During the housing shortage after WW1 cheap tenements and cabins were set up there to house the Japanese workers. (There were also many Indo-Canadians who lived and worked in this industrial part of lower Mount Pleasant.)
Just down the street on 6th at Columbia (PHOTO) was the Japanese Canadian United Church aka Columbia United Church or Fairview United Church. The Japanese Kindergarten (starting in 1912) was also there. On the same block between Alberta and Columbia on 5th was the Japanese Language School and The Mikado Club was at 154 W 5th.
This hold-out house at 233 West 6th Avenue was built ca. 1907 according to the water service records. In 1910, a building application was placed for the house to be raised, at a cost of $500. Architecturally, it is unique in that it is constructed with hollow-cast concrete blocks; the blocks would be made on the site by the builder with a special block moulding machine.
From around 1937 to 1941, the Asano family lived there: Masao Asano who worked at Peace Cleaners on Fraser St. , his wife Umeko, mother Sugi (widow), and daughter Jean. Jean was a talented young artist as evidenced by the drawings she submitted to the Sun Newspaper’s “Sun Ray Club”(children’s section).
As a member of the Sun Ray club, you get your name mentioned in the newspaper for your birthday along with all the other Sun Rays who share the same birthday. This must have been an automatic yearly event because, curiously, Jean Asano’s name under her birthdate is included on this celebratory list until 1945. (I suppose the Sun Ray’s Uncle Ben didn’t realize he had an enemy alien on his list!)
In 1942 the Asano’s were either interned along with all the other Japanese Canadians living on the west coast or were forced to leave British Columbia. More research is needed to find out exactly what happened to the Asano family of Mount Pleasant.
Many of the famous Asahi baseball team players also lived in Fairview/Mount Pleasant.
Asahi baseball player, Naggie Nishihara (see above) lived at 2109 Alberta St. and in 1938 he is listed as a helper at BC Fir. Another Asahi player, Mike Maruno (see above) also worked at BC Fir and he lived at 161 W 6th. Many other Asahi players lived in Fairview west of Cambie.
My Grandfather, Pete Mauro (53 E. 6th) was also a baseball player; he played on several Commercial League and Terminal League teams that took on the Asahi team. Apparently, he was a bit of a hothead, and he was called “pugnacious Pete Mauro” once or twice in the press. There is one newspaper report of him getting into fisticuffs once with Asahi star player, Kaz Suga.
TheNikkei Museum has produced a great booklet on the subject: FE-A-BYU: Japanese Canadian History in Fairview and Mount Pleasant. It’s a great resource to check out.