The Japanese kanji characters in the title of this exhibit are pronounced mo no no fu. It is an obscure, ancient term that captures the essence of the early Japanese Canadian men we showcase here. Beginning in early 1916, over 200 Japanese Canadian recruits began military training in Vancouver as the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps, intending to offer themselves in service of the British war effort in Europe. Although naturalized Canadian citizens, these men were deprived of the right to vote, and their dream of an all-Japanese Canadian battalion was ultimately rejected by the army. But this did not deter their determination to serve their adopted country: one by one, the members of the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps travelled to Alberta to enlist as individuals.
In the end, over 220 of the men who trained with the Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps served in Canadian battalions of the British army overseas. They participated in the major battles of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Lens, Avion, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, Denain, Valenciennes, and Mons. Only six came home uninjured and 55 were killed or died of their wounds. Letters from the front describe the exemplary and fearless fighting of the Japanese Canadians. 13 were awarded Military Medals for bravery and two received the Cross of St. George.
Despite demonstrated loyalty to Canada, these veterans were still denied the vote until 1931. As well, during the Second World War, their military service was ignored and they were included in the forced dispersal, mass internment, and dispossession of Japanese Canadians in 1942.
This exhibit reveals little-known stories of the great efforts of a dedicated few whose tenacity and vision far surpassed the limitations of their times. From the entrepreneurial persistence of community leaders to the quiet yet significant support of the women’s groups; Imperial Japan’s rising military might and alliance with the United Kingdom; ties to samurai lineages and connections to the Russo-Japanese war; the honour code of the recruits that transcended their formal military training; proven bravery on the war front including a significant role in the taking of Vimy Ridge which was a defining moment for Canada as a nation; and subsequent battles on the home front for civil liberties. It honours our early Japanese Canadian warriors and the leadership, loyalty, and bravery they displayed a century ago.