The ‘Good Barber of Duncan’ – New Leads and Big Questions

Sonia Manak posted an item on 9.09.2015 (see the post ‘The Barber Shop Story”) retelling a pre-WW II story her grandfather had recounted about an unnamed  Japanese Canadian barber in the Duncan area (unceded territories of the Cowichan Tribes). He apparently was the only barber in the Cowichan Valley who would cut Sikhs’ hair. Our project is hoping to find out who this Japanese Canadian barber was, since his story may help reveal the untold history of relations among peoples of colour, particularly Asian Canadians and First Nations on Vancouver Island.

Now, thanks to Christopher Hanna, who generously shared previous archival search results with ACVI researcher Steven Davies, we may have a lead on who this ‘good barber’ of Duncan might be.

The documents that she light on this question come from the B.C. Archives, Government Records 268. According to the correspondence, on 10 August, 1940, G. Neil Perry, the director of B.C.’s Bureau of Economics and Statistics wrote to Colonel E. Pepler, deputy attorney-general at the time, informing him that “we have been quietly studying the extent and character of oriental penetration in the economy of this Province…We have recently completed a typewritten list showing the names, addresses, and business of Japanese who hold trade licences in British Columbia. A list of incorporated companies know to be Japanese-controlled is attached to the list.” The departmental solicitor from the replied a few days later stating the materials would “no doubt be of some considerable use to this department.”

For the purposes of our research into the ‘good barber’ of Duncan, the documents indicate that the North Cowichan district had issued a barbershop trade licence to a Mr. Nashimira in 1939. Whether this is the owner of the specific barber shop we are looking for is not certain because North Cowichan also included Chemainus. But it is an important lead in documenting the story.

On another level, however, the documents have an even greater significance. They reveal the extent of racial profiling going on at the time by the B.C. government. Canada was not at war with Japan at this time and Japanese Canadians were largely supporting the Allies on the European front. Yet the B.C. government, under the influence of racist politicians at the time, appears to have been deeply involved in profiling Japanese Canadians, creating the conditions that led to their uprooting, dispossession and exile from 1942 to 1949. Further research is required but the language used and the extent of the surveillance suggests that provincial institutions worked closely with the federal government leading up to the uprooting, a matter that was not dealt with in the 1988 redress settlement.

Although the B.C. government passed a resolution in 2012 apologizing to Japanese Canadians, the province has not to our knowledge investigated or revealed the extent of its own involvement in the uprooting. This contrasts sharply with the B.C. government’s 2014 redress measures adopted for the head-tax and immigration restrictions imposed on Chinese Canadians. In that case, the government held community consultations, seriously investigated its role in the racist treatment of Chinese Canadians, posted an extensive list of discriminatory laws and regulations, and established a redress fund of $1 million. For details see http://www.embracebc.ca/embracebc/community/apology_for_historical_wrongs.page?WT.svl=Centre. This was a significant step in recognizing provincial government responsibility, even though the head-tax measures and immigration restrictions were imposed by the federal government. Similarly, the documents we received indicate that the provincial government was extensively involved in the uprooting of Japanese Canadians, even though the federal government passed the laws. Given the precedent set by provincial redress for the head tax, and the fact the government has not investigated or disclosed its role and responsibility in the uprooting, further measures to address the legacy of B.C. as a ‘White Man’s Province’ may be warranted. Perry Document - IMG_5719