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Chuzi Ichida (left) and Mits Hayashi, both United Church members from Vancouver, listen as speakers describe B.C. Conference apology for unauthorized sale of Japanese church following Second World War. Photo by Mike Milne

Commissioners asked to spread word of B.C. Conference apology over post-war sale of Japanese church (Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009)

By David Wilson

A little-known chapter in the story of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War came to light on the floor of the 40th General Council Wednesday.

Commissioners were asked to recognize and spread word of an apology offered by British Columbia Conference to former members and descendants of a Japanese church in Vancouver that was sold after the war without the consent or financial benefit of the congregation that once worshipped there.

Powell Street Japanese United Church was closed after the Canadian government forcibly relocated Japanese-Canadians to internment camps in the British Columbia interior following Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour. When members of the church began returning to Vancouver in 1949, they discovered that the church building was no longer suitable for worship. In 1953, the United Church sold the building to a social service arm of First United, which then sold it to a Buddhist society for use as a temple. The former congregation was given no say in the decisions to sell the building.

Last May, B.C. Conference formally apologized for the church’s action and later took part in a service of reconciliation. Moderator Rt. Rev. David Giuliano asked commissioners to take the story home with them so that former members of Powell Street United who didn’t return to the West Coast after the war might learn of the apology.

“They would be very happy to hear this apology has been made,” United Church member Chizu Uchida of Vancouver told commissioners. But she added the question of who authorized the sale remains an unanswered sore point.


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