mentioned a while back, there’s a movement afoot to save Joy Kogawa’s childhood home. Kogawa, in case you don’t know, is a prominent Canadian novelist. Her book Obasan is a memoir of her internment in BC during
World War II. It’s a small, lovely book and pretty much required reading for every Canadian student.
Her childhood home–a south Vancouver bungalow at–is threatened with demolition. “Friends, academics, fellow members of the CanLit community and the Land Conservancy of BC” want to save the house and turn it into a writer’s retreat. The cost: CAN $1.25 million dollars.
Here’s the case for preserving the house: [more]
- It is a historical and literary landmark – Joy is one of Canada’s most influential and honoured authors. Vancouver has only two literary landmarks and both are in Stanley Park – Robbie Burns statue and Pauline Johnson memorial.
- The house will become a writing centre – There will be a writers-in-residence program working in conjunction with writing associations across Canada. Special consideration will be considered for “Writers of Conscience”, who write topic of human rights and racial/cultural harmony/issues.
- The history of the house itself provides a landmark to the Japanese Canadian internment – one of Canada’s darkest historical periods. There is no acknowledgement or memorial in Vancouver for this incident.
Let’s examine these points:
- Kogawa lived in the house for all of five years. Yes, it’s featured in Obasan,
but what’s the minimum duration for this sort of thing? At least Emily Carr
was born in Emily Carr House in Victoria. And I’m not sure an apparent shortage
of literary landmarks is a resounding reason to add some.
- A writing retreat in Marpole? It’s not the first place I’d choose to pen
a novel. I don’t know the house’s exact address, so I can’t say what sort
of neighbourhood it’s in. I’d imagine that a lot of that $1.25 million is
going for insane Vancouver property prices. That money would buy two or three
writer’s retreats in, say, the Interior. Regardless, writer’s retreats are,
in my experience, traditionally outside of major urban centres.
- The third point, that ‘There is no acknowledgement or memorial in Vancouver for this incident’ looks just plain wrong. What about the Momiji Gardens (and there are other
memorials elsewhere in the province)? Yes, the internment was a savage cruelty inflicted on 22,000 of our citizens. It took the government forty
years, but in 1988 they formally apologized and spent $300 million to for redress and to compensate the internees, apparently to the satisfaction of Japanese-Canadian activists. A second memorial certainly can’t hurt, but let’s be clear on what’s already
been done to address this issue.
I respect the folks trying to save Kogawa House. They’re well-intentioned, and certainly there are worse ways to spend $1.25 million. That said, and I suspect this is an unpopular opinion, I’m not sure I can get behind this cause. I’m unconvinced about the house’s significance, it’s a questionable, costly location, and there’s been no shortage of redress or recognition of Canada’s dark days of internment. I welcome disagreement on this, so please, have at me.