March 9 Joy Kogawa House Fundraiser in Toronto a Great Success

March 9 Joy Kogawa House Fundraiser in Toronto a Great Success

by Anton Wagner, secretary Save Kogawa House committee 

Joy’s
launch of her novel Emily Kato, combined with a fundraiser for the Joy
Kogawa House, was an inspiring evening at the Church of the Holy
Trinity, next to the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, on March 9.
Nearly $9,000 was raised for the Land Conservancy of B.C.’s Joy Kogawa
House rescue drive. About 150 people attended the event organized by
Anton Wagner, Secretary of the Joy Kogawa House Committee.

March 9th, Toronto, Tomoko Makabe sells books for the Emily Kato launch

Tomoko Makabe sells books as audience arrives –  photo by Henryk Fibich

The
evening was scheduled to begin at 5 pm. Fortunately Save Joy Kogawa
House Committee member Tomoko Makabe suggested we should start selling
books already at 4:40 so that those coming early could purchase copies
of Emily Kato and Obasan and have Joy inscribe them. There was still a
line-up as concert pianist William Aide began the evening half an hour
later with a beautifully serene classical composition.

March 9, Toronto, William Aide concert pianist

William Aide plays piano while Tomoko Makabe sells books as the audience arrives –  photo by Henryk Fibich

The
Reverend Sara Boyles welcomed the audience and spoke of the tradition
of social justice at the Church of the Holy Trinity, founded in 1847
for Toronto’s poor immigrants, and that the Churches was continuing to
stand with the homeless, dispossessed and people excluded from Canadian
society.

Michael Creal, former head of humanities at York
University, reminded the audience of the forced evacuations and
internments of 22,000 Japanese Canadians under the War Measures Act in
1942 and of the importance of Joy’s Obasan in expressing the suffering
these government injustices inflicted on the Japanese Canadian
community. He recalled that he taught Obasan at York University in the
early 1980s and that his students didn’t know what had been done to
Japanese Canadians during World War II. Michael described the very
important public meeting at the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1984 that
led to the Toronto Ad Hoc Committee on Redress and helped to make
redress a national issue. He then introduced Joy.

March 9th, Toronto, Michael Creal

 Michael Creal, former head of humanities at York University –  photo by Henryk Fibich

Joy
spoke of her childhood home in Vancouver that is now under threat of
demolition and read the description of the house from Obasan. She then
read from Emily Kato, including chapter 22 set in the Church of the
Holy Trinity, one of the many locales where organizing for redress took
place. Joy recalled that it felt like a miracle when she came across
her childhood home in Vancouver again in 2003 and that it continues to
be a miracle that the house is still standing. She also described her
encounter, in the garden of the house, with the cherry tree which was
subsequently severely pruned and may be dying. “I felt when I was
there, in all its woundedness, that somehow in the universe we are
known, our wounds are known. And I had the strange sense that this
knowing, this knowing of the community, this knowing of the family,
that when we are known we are healed. I felt that healing welling up
within me at the tree. So for me that spot became holy ground. It was
my small portal to messages that we are known. And I just felt that
healing.” Referring to the new novel she has begun to write, Joy
concluded, “My dream is that I will be able to write Gently to Nagasaki
with instructions that will come to me through the portal of that tree.
That is my dream.”  
 

March 9th, Toronto, Joy Kogawa raises her hands to make a point.

Joy raises her hands to make a point –  photo by Henryk Fibich

Bill
Turner, Executive Director of The Land Conservancy of B.C., then spoke
of the necessity of saving the Joy Kogawa House as a permanent reminder
of historical events that must never be repeated and asked those
present to assist in the drive to save the House from demolition. “The
House is a symbol of a time and a reminder when ordinary Canadians were
removed from their homes and interned. We want to save this house as a
reminder of that. We want to save this house so that it can become a
place of happiness again, a symbol of peace and hope and
reconciliation. We must not forget what happened in those years, and
it’s easy to do so. It’s easy to forget.”

Bill expressed his
optimism that the $700,000 required to purchase the House from its
present owner could be raised with Canada-wide support. “The Joy Kogawa
House is of national importance,” he stated. “As those of us who are
now here die and move on, we must preserve these places so that our
children and grandchildren can learn what happened. In a society that
doesn’t remember and recognize its mistakes, they can continue to
happen. An injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

March 9, Toronto, Bill Turner

Bill Turner, Executive Director of The Land Conservancy of BC – –  photo by Henryk Fibich

Joy’s
dream, of course, is also that other writers will be able to come and
stay and write in the Joy Kogawa House. Ron Brown, First Vice-Chair of
the Writers Union of Canada, was the first speaker representing the
dozen writers’ organizations that have backed saving the Kogawa House.
He recalled that Groucho Marx once said that he would never belong to
an organization that would have him as a member.  “Well, 1,500 members
of the Writers' Union of Canada are absolutely delighted to belong to
an organization that can claim Joy Kogawa as a member. You have written
so passionately about an unpleasant reality,” Brown stated.

“You
have arrived at an interesting moment in Ontario.  We are experiencing
a controversy about an attempt to censor a book about another
unpleasant reality.  The book is called Three Wishes.  It was written
by Deborah Ellis, one of our members, and includes interviews with
Israeli and Palestinian children who express their fears and wishes
about the conflict there. Some of those views are disturbing to some. A
teacher near Toronto objected that the contents do not adequately
reflect the Israeli point of view, and an organized effort was launched
to have school boards across Ontario remove the book from their silver
birch award reading list. A few have done just
that.”

“Canada
has faced a number of unpleasant realities.  The extermination of the
Beothuks in Newfoundland, the expulsion of the Acadians from New
Brunswick, the long standing mistreatment of our First Nations people,
and the reality which you, Joy, have written about.

But unlike
most other books written about these realities, Joy brings together
three things which the others do not. Not only has she written about
this reality, but she has experienced it herself, and third, the Kogawa
House still stands as a physical legacy of that dreadful time.”

“This
is why I find it distressing that the house is facing the threat of
demolition. I write about heritage buildings and have seen too many
demolished. Those with negative connotations especially. It seems that
in Canada it's what we do.”

“And that is why I find it even more
distressing that Canada's heritage minister has declined to provide
funds to help save the house, despite a written pledge from the federal
government that it will do everything in its power to ensure that such
atrocities will never recur. Talk about not
putting their money where their mouth is.”

“But
it is encouraging to see so much support here tonight for saving the
house, support that the Writers' Union is happy to share. But as Joy
said in the Globe this morning, there is not much time left.”

“As
with the book Three Wishes, to destroy the Kogawa House would be much
like censoring reality. In Canada we should be confronting our
realities, not censoring them.  Saving the Kogawa House will serve as a
visible reminder of one unpleasant reality. So, let's save the house
and help make Joy's dream come true.”

March 9th, Toronto, Ron Brown

Ron Brown, First Vice-Chair of the Writers Union of Canada –  photo by Henryk Fibich

In
her address, Mary Ellen Csamer, President of the League of Canadian
Poets, stated: “As writers, artists, we are both witnesses to and
participants in our times. Sometimes, as now, our shared responsibility
is to act as an amplifier for those voices who can best speak to
specific actions of the body politic, done purportedly on our behalf. 
Joy Kowaga’s intelligent passionate voice has added to the sum of our
witnessing, to the collective ‘no’ of our resistance to our own
fear-based tyranny.” She added that “It saddens me that our Federal
Government has no program in place to protect our historical and
literary heritage. The Joy Kogawa House represents the struggle for
Home. It is not real estate, it is the real estate of our collective
need to create and nurture community so that we can learn to live
without fear of each other. To create this writers-in-residence,
historic centre in the City of Vancouver would express on behalf of all
Canadians our deep desire to redress the wrongs of the past and
celebrate once again our rich and diverse cultural community. On behalf
of the League of Canadian Poets, and its 700 members, I urge the
Federal Government to provide the necessary fund to help us to save the
Joy Kogawa House.”

March 9, Toronto, Mary Ellen Csamer - with Bill Turner and Joy Kogawa in background

Mary Ellen Csamer, President of the League of Canadian Poets –  photo by Henryk Fibich

Philip
Adams next spoke on behalf of two organizations as Coordinator of the
Readers & Writers program for PEN Canada and as Treasurer of the
Playwrights Guild of Canada. “The Playwrights Guild of Canada has over
800 members who are for the most part desperate for a time and place to
write and it is our hope that one or many of them may be allowed the
opportunity to do that in the Joy Kogawa House. PEN Canada fights for
freedom of expression around the world and particularly here in Canada.

There are many exiles here in Canada as well. The First Nations
certainly have reason to feel exiled, the Japanese Canadians have been
exiled, and many people from other countries who are here now continue
to feel in exile. Again it is PEN Canada’s hope and dream that perhaps
some day soon such writers will be able to take up residency in
Vancouver.”

March 9th, Toronto, Philip Adams

 Philip
Adams, spoke on behalf of two organizations as Coordinator of the
Readers & Writers program for PEN Canada and as Treasurer of the
Playwrights Guild of Canada.
–  photo by Henryk Fibich

Dr.
Joseph Levy, Vice-President, External, of the York University Faculty
Association, explained that his field of health sciences is really
about healing and that this evening had been an evening about healing.
“We must say to ourselves that we never want this to happen again in
Canada but we also don’t want this to happen again in Somalia, in
Afghanistan, in Romania or anywhere else in the world where this could
possibly happen. So I see this project as being not only for our fellow
Canadians who were interned during the war but I also see this project
as symbolic of something that will allow all of us to continue working
around the world so that this kind of event, this atrocious, despicable
way of treating citizens in their own country, should never happen
again. But let me remind you that it is happening at this moment all
over the world.”

Dr. Levy then presented a $1,000 contribution
from the York University Faculty Association to Bill Turner for the
Land Conservancy Joy Kogawa House fundraising drive and challenged
other universities across Canada to match YUFA’s donation.  

March 9th, Toronto, Joseph Levy, with Bill Turner behind him

Dr. Joseph Levy, Vice-President, External, of the York University Faculty Association, with Bill Turner –  photo by Henryk Fibich

 

Ben
Antao, President of the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Authors
Association, also brought a donation from his organization. (The CAA
awarded Obasan its Book of the Year Award when it was first published
in 1981.) “Heritage properties of writers and artists help to enrich
the cultural mosaic that is Canada,” Antao stated. “I haven’t seen Joy
Kogawa’s childhood home in Vancouver but I have read her novel Obasan
and the book describes her house and illuminates a dark chapter in the
developing history of Canada and her people.”

MArch 9th, Toronto, Ben Antao

Ben Antao, President of the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Authors Association,–  photo by Henryk Fibich

Following
these presentations, William Aide again played the piano, Joy inscribed
more books and many in the audience spoke with Bill Turner about saving
the Kogawa House and made personal donations.

March 9, Toronto, Lynn McDonald with Joy Kogawa

Joy inscribing a copy of Emily Kato to Lynn Macdonald – photo by Henryk Fibich

There
was much animated conversation as the audience enjoyed the delicious
food and refreshments provided by members of the Church of the Holy
Trinity congregation and organized by its Social Justice Committee.

March 9th, Toronto: Professors Joseph Levy and Kym Bird of the York University Faculty Assoc. with Bill Turner and Anton Wagner

Professors
Joseph Levy and Kym Bird of the York University Faculty Association
with Bill Turner and Anton Wagner, Secretary of the Save Joy Kogawa
House Committee – 
photo by Henryk Fibich

 

March 9, Toronto, Derry Poster with Joy Kogawa

Joy signs Derry Fitzgerald’s poster of the March 9 event which Derry designed at the 6 St. Joseph Street House.  –  photo by Henryk Fibich

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