Vancouver Sun: Non-profit leads fight to save Kogawa home

Vancouver Sun: Non-profit leads fight to save Kogawa home

Check out this Vancouver Sun story by Kevin Griffin Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, December 31, 2005 

In fewer than 90 days, the south Vancouver home that writer Joy
Kogawa grew up in and wrote about in the novel Obasan faces being
demolished and lost forever as a physical reminder of the internment of
22,000 Japanese-Canadians in B.C. during the Second World War.

In
an effort to save the wood-frame house at 1450 W. 64th Ave., The Land
Conservancy of B.C. has decided to lead a campaign to raise $1.25
million to save the modest bungalow.

Bill Turner, TLC's executive director, said the Kogawa House is a very important part of the province's heritage.

“Joy
is a very well-respected Canadian writer — the house is important
because it was her childhood home,” Turner said. “It's also
historically important when you tie that together with her book Obasan
and with the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World
War.

Kogawa lived in the house in the Marpole neighbourhood with
her family when she was a child. In 1942, at age six, she and her
family were removed from the house under the War Measures Act and
interned in a camp in the Slocan Valley. As with thousands of other
Canadians of Japanese ancestry, many of whom lived in the Marpole area,
Steveston and in what was called Japantown in the Downtown Eastside,
the Kogawas had their property auctioned off by the federal government
without their consent. After the war, Japanese-Canadians were
prohibited from moving back to Vancouver and other coastal areas and
instead were dispersed across the country.

Kogawa went on to
become one of the country's most celebrated writers. Obasan, described
as one of the 100 most important Canadian books ever written, reflects
Kogawa's internment experiences and includes many references to the
home she lost as a child. It tells the story of internment through the
eyes of Naomi Nakane who is protected by her aunt Obasan.

Obasan was selected by the Vancouver Public Library as the selection for One Book, One Vancouver in 2005.

In
November, Vancouver council delayed issuing a demotion permit for 120
days starting Nov. 30. The deadline expires Tuesday, March 30.

Turner
said the campaign to save the Kogawa house starts in earnest in
January. He said the $1.25 million fundraising goal includes $670,000
for the house and property, $170,000 for restoration, and $300,000 for
an endowment so that the Kogawa house can become a residence for
writers of conscience.

He said anyone wishing to donate to help
save the Kogawa house can go to TLC's website at www.conservancy.bc.ca
or call TLC at 604-733-2313. So far, the campaign has raised $35,000.

In
the first week of January, pledge forms will be distributed to
independent bookstores around Greater Vancouver such as Duthie's, Hagar
Books, Characters Books, Vancouver Kidsbooks, and 32 Books Co.

“I think the timeline is short but the people of Vancouver will be up to it,” Turner said. “We can pull this off.”

Usually
known as TLC, The Land Conservancy is a non-profit, charitable land
trust founded in 1997. Modelled after the National Trust of Great
Britain, TLC selects important cultural and natural landscapes for
protection. Properties saved by TLC include Victoria's Abkhazi Garden,
Sooke Potholes, and Burnaby's Baldwin House, the Arthur
Erickson-designed post-and-beam house by Deer Lake. The Kogawa house is
the TLC's first property in Vancouver.

Joy Kogawa said that the campaign to save her family home has caught her entirely by surprise.

“It's all too magic for words. I'm completely dumfounded by it all,” Kogawa said.

“Where does it come from? That concern, that love, that compassion?
I don't know whether it was because Obasan was chosen as the one book
for the city or that, somehow, some energy formed, just flew out of the
ground. People seem to care about it.

“It's more than gratifying — it's healing. I feel that my cup is absolutely overflowing.”

Kogawa
said with all public support for the campaign to save her childhood
home, it makes her feel as if people are standing by her and saying
that her story isn't being forgotten. She said that needs to happen for
other people all over the world who feel an internal hollowness when
their stories aren't acknowledged.

“There's a need for racism to
be understood and for us to see each other not as enemies but as
neighbours and to embrace one another. If this can serve that purpose,
it will be good for the city and for the country. That would be a
wonderful thing.”

Besides the Save Kogawa House Committee, groups
supporting the campaign include the Vancouver Heritage Foundation,
Heritage Vancouver, the Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture as well
as the Writers' Union of Canada and the Federation of BC Writers.

kevingriffin@png.canwest.com

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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