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Archival description
Corning, R.M. Ontario Cultural groups
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Japanese Canadian Blue River Road Camp Collection

  • MsC-140
  • Fonds
  • 17 Feb. 1942-10 Nov. 1943

Covering the time period from February 1942 to November 1943, the collection consists of records created or received by various staff of the Department of Mines and Resources, Surveys and Engineering Branch in the course of their activities establishing, administering and operating road work camps for evacuated male Japanese Canadian nationals along the proposed route of the Yellowhead Highway between Blue River, British Columbia and Jasper, Alberta. Also included among the files are some records of Department of Public Works staff pertaining to their role in the establishment of the camps, as well as a significant amount of correspondence with the British Columbia Security Commission (B.C.S.C) and related records. In addition to documenting the evacuation of Japanese Canadians from the B.C. coast to interior road work camps and other areas in early 1942, and many of the activities and events that occurred in the camps, the records also provide evidence of the economic and labour conditions in British Columbia during World War II.

Records within the collection pertain to the following road work camps: Albreda, Black Spur, Blacks Spit, Blue River, Gosnell, Grantbrook, Lampriere, Lucerne, Pratt, Pyramid, Rainbow, Red Pass, Red Sands, Tete Jaune / Yellowhead, and Thunder River in British Columbia, and Geikie, Jasper and Decoigne in Alberta. In addition, some records reference detention camps at Greenwood, Kaslo, Lemon Creek, New Denver, Roseberry, Sandon, and Slocan.

Record types include correspondence, reports, lists, nominal rolls, bills of lading, invoices, operational memos, purchase orders, and balance sheets. A significant number of records relate to the establishment and ongoing supply of the road work camps; these include supply orders and invoices, architectural plans for camp buildings, and status and other reports concerning the preparation of camps. Administrative personnel records document the hiring, management and activities of non-Japanese Canadian road camp workers, such as foremen, sub-foremen, and carpenters, and include information pertaining to the previous work and life experiences of these men, their age, ‘character,’ medical conditions, and home address, as well as positions and wages expected and received.

Many records within the fonds relate to the management of Japanese Canadian road camp workers, including the administration of pay, Workmens’ Compensation claims, and payment of assignment fees for dependents; medical and perceived psychological issues and the treatment of such issues; and the movement of Japanese Canadian men between camps and the policies and procedures governing these movements. This includes records pertaining to the granting of temporary leave, transfer to other camps or areas, family re-unification, the release of workers to private jobs, either within B.C. or in another province such as Ontario or Alberta, and the attitudes of certain communities towards Japanese Canadians. Correspondence in several files relates to supervisors’ attitudes towards road camp workers, including those identified as agitators or troublesome, and the methods used to deal with them, such as transfer out of camp and the censorship of Japanese Canadian mail. Included also are records relating to the organization and collective resistance of Japanese Canadian road camp workers, their demands, complaints and refusals to work, and the techniques identified to deal with these situations.

Several files include nominal roles and other lists of Japanese Canadian and other road camp workers, including some or all of the following personal information: name, registration number, occupation, previous work experience, age, place of birth, address, marital status, number of dependents, ‘physical defects’ and medical, dental or mental health issues. Some correspondence from Japanese Canadian road camp workers to camp administrators provides insight into their lives both in camp and prior to evacuation.

Canada. Department of Mines and Resources. Surveys and Engineering Branch.

[British Columbia Security Commission correspondence]

File consists of correspondence and related records between the Engineering Branch of the Department of Mines & Resources and the British Columbia Security Commission (B.C.S.C.), in particular R.M. Corning, Assistant Engineer, Engineering and Construction Service, Blue River with W.A. Eastwood and C.V. Booth of the B.C.S.C. The file includes records pertaining to the following camps: Pyramid, Blue River, Yellowhead, Thunder River, Lempriere, and Rainbow Ranch.

Records relate to the administration of the road camp and management of the workers, as well as relevant policies, procedures and legislation. A significant portion of the correspondence relates to requests from camp workers to be transferred to other projects, areas or occupations, as well as requests from sawmills wanting to hire workers and the legislation and policies surrounding the granting or rejection of these requests. Other correspondence deals with policies and procedures for granting camp workers leave permits and the attitudes of particular communities towards Japanese Canadians. The file also contains correspondence concerning identifying and dealing with “agitators”, or discontent or unsatisfactory workers in camp; the transfer of workers to the prairies and Ontario and required medical tests for these workers; and workers’ medical issues. Financial records and related correspondence pertain to wages due to workers, refunds of evacuation fare, unemployment insurance, and assignment fees to be paid by workers to cover the expenses incurred by the B.C.S.C. to care for their elderly parents. Also included are letters in which road camp workers describe their lives and occupations previous to evacuation, and lists of workers on the Yellowhead / Blue River project, containing information such as name, age, registration number, marital status, number of dependents, physical defects, occupation and place of birth.

[Lempriere Camp]

File consists of correspondence and related records pertaining to activities and personnel, both Japanese Canadian and other, at Lempriere Camp. The majority of correspondence is between Lempriere Camp foremen and Department of Mines and Resources staff, in particular Assistant Engineer R.M. Corning, A.W. Brereton, and C.R. Cornish. Also included is some correspondence from Japanese Canadian camp workers and the British Columbia Security Commission (B.C.S.C.). In addition to Lempriere camp, the file includes a small amount of records concerning Pyramid camp.

Much of the correspondence consists of memoranda of an administrative nature, including correspondence pertaining to equipment and supplies for camp; general administration; financial and accounting matters, such as cheques owed to camp workers, money owed by workers, assignments to be paid by Japanese Canadian workers under the Maintenance Act; and personnel matters, such as wages paid to workers, Workmen’s (Workers’) Compensation Board and Unemployment Insurance claims, and the resignation and replacement of foremen. Included is a memorandum concerning the requirement for Japanese Canadian workers to complete forms for the Custodian of Enemy Property, and several records relating to medical and dental conditions of and treatment received by camp workers. Other correspondence in the file pertains to dealing with workers deemed to be difficult, including those reportedly either not following instructions or not doing enough work to pay for their meals and/or medical costs. The file also includes a memorandum pertaining to a visit by the Spanish Consul to Blue River and the need to find a “spokesman” amongst the Japanese nationals at Lempriere camp for this occasion.

A majority of the correspondence concerns the transfer of Japanese Canadian workers between camps or requests of the men to leave camp for jobs in the British Columbia interior, Alberta and Ontario; this includes correspondence regarding the banning for a period of time of the employment of Japanese Canadians in B.C. sawmills and the active recruiting of men for jobs at sawmills and logging companies outside of British Columbia. The file also contains records pertaining to requests for leaves of absence and men seeking to leave camp to get married. Correspondence between Brereton and a Japanese Canadian worker in April 1943 discusses the worker’s life in the one year since evacuation and previously in Vancouver, and includes Brereton’s response to his request to marry and find suitable employment outside of camp. A letter of reference from Corning for a Japanese Canadian worker is also included in the file. A few letters discuss the dissuasion of Japanese Canadians from settling in communities that do not welcome such settlement and a letter dated April 1, 1943 refers to the removal of unmarried men from Hope.

[British Columbia Security Commission correspondence]

File consists of correspondence and related records of R.M. Corning, Assistant Engineer, Engineering and Construction Service, Blue River with the British Columbia Security Commission (B.C.S.C). Some letters are from the B.C.S.C. to A.W. Brereton, also Assistant Engineer at Blue River. The file includes records pertaining to the following camps: Pyramid, Blue River, Thunder River, Lempriere, Red Sands, Black Spur and Pratt, and the movement of Japanese Canadians to and from the housing centres of Kaslo, Sandon, New Denver, Roseberry, Lemon Creek, Slocan and Greenwood.

Records in the file relate to the administration of road camps and the management of camp workers, and relevant policies, procedures and legislation.

A significant portion of the correspondence and related records concerns requests from camp workers to be transferred to other projects, areas or occupations, including men requesting to be reunited with their wives or other family members; requests from sawmills to hire workers; and the policies surrounding the granting or rejection of these requests. Among these records are a couple of letters in which road camp workers describe their lives and occupations previous to evacuation. A December 1, 1942 document prepared by Corning lists camp workers to be transferred from Black Spur, Thunder River and Red Sands to the housing centres of Slocan, New Denver, and Greenwood, B.C., and includes information such as surname, given name (initial), registration number, locations transferred to and from, as well as the protocol for travel and escort. A January 15, 1943 letter from the B.C.S.C. discusses Ottawa’s opposition to any further hiring of Japanese Canadians for employment in the B.C. lumber industry. Also included in the file are records pertaining to the transfer of Japanese Canadian camp workers from Pyramid camp to Alberta logging camps, the use of “propaganda” to encourage camp workers to go to logging camps in Ontario, and the refusal of some workers to go to logging camps.

Other correspondence and related documents deal with the policies and procedures for granting camp workers leave permits and perceived inefficiencies around the granting of such permits. A January 9, 1943 document lists men in Pyramid Camp seeking fourteen day leave, and includes information such as name, registration number, desired destination, and their relationship to the individuals that they will visit. Several letters discuss the attitudes of particular communities towards Japanese Canadians.

The file also contains correspondence and other documents concerning reportedly unsatisfactory or unruly camp workers. This includes several lists of ‘ineffectives’ to be transferred out of various camps. The lists include information such as name, registration number, age, marital status and destination (eg. Old Man’s Home, hospital, other camps), as well as details regarding the reason for being removed or transferred from camp, such as old age, suspected physical or mental health issues, or refusal to work.

Other records in the file pertain to food supplies, the censorship of Japanese Canadian mail, Workmen’s (Workers’) Compensation Board benefits, workers’ assignment payments, and attempts to get monies owed to Japanese Canadian workers from private companies.