Interviewers: Marilyn Clayton and Marie Bannister (for the Britannia Heritage Shipyard Project)
Recorded at the Britannia Heritage Shipyard, Richmond, B.C., September 11, 1991
(Project) Tape No. 106:1
INTRODUCTORY CONVERSATION. About day & tape machine.
MC: Jim, the questions that we wanted to ask today were just, mostly things that you can recall about living here, you know, on the site. Maybe you could just tell us, what was, what was your home like there behind the boatworks?
JK: Oh, it was a regular Japanese home. Yeah.
MC: And you had, now how many people would have been in your home, in your family at the time?
JK: I had two brothers, (father), and mother, and a sister, but she passed away before. Just going, I think she was in kindergarten. And she passed way, I think it was about September, I'm not sure now.
MC: Okay. So did you...
JK: She would have been 6 or 7.
MC: Six or seven, okay. Were you born right here in..?
JK: Yeah, I was born in Steveston, you know at that hospital, Japanese Hospital. I've got a picture of that at home.
MC: Have you?
JK: Oh, I found a picture in a book that was written by a Japanese about all of Steveston, you know. And that had a picture, they had a picture of all the counsellors in Japanese, you know. Since 19, no 1898 'til 1934.
MC: Is that a book you've got at home? Or is it...
JK: Yeah, I loaned it to one of my friends. I cannot read, you see Japanese, so. That's why I lone it to the people who can read. So one friend told me, ""Why don't you get it written in English?"". You know, translated into English.
MB: That would be interesting.
JK: Yeah, that would be something for you people to see.
MC: Oh yeah, that would be wonderful. When will you be getting the book back?
JK: Oh, I don't think he'll take too long to read it all, that book. It's just a small book. You know, like small print on it.
MC: It would be great to have a look at that.
JK: I can bring you the pictures anyway.
JK: There was, the United Church was there, Buddhist Church, our hospital, our Japanese school, and the old Lord Byng School.
MC: When, what years would that have been?
JK: That was, that book was written in 1936 or '38 I think.
MC: Okay. When did your parents come to Canada?
JK: My dad came in 1917 and my mother in 1921. And were, they didn't come direct to here, they went to Tofino first and then they landed in Victoria, you know. And then they went to Tofino and then came down here to Steveston.
MC: Now your dad was a boat builder, would he have learned his skill in Japan?
JK: Yeah, yeah, he got trained in Japan.
MC: Okay. Would he have brought all of his tools with him or some of them?
JK: Most of his Japanese tools, yes.
MB: When he was in Japan, would he have learned from his family? Was this a long time family business? Or did he apprentice with somebody else?
JK: No, I think he apprenticed with somebody else.
MC: When did you build your first boat?
JK: When my dad had a stroke. We came out in '51 and dad had a stroke in the third year, I think. And one year we didn't know what to do. But then this guy, a fisherman Ken Monroe, approached me. ""You got to build me a boat"", he said. That's a start. That was in... Either '54 or '55. 1955 that we started.
MC: And so that was your first boat, and did you build that all by yourself?
JK: No, I built it with my brother.
MC: With your brother.
JK: Yeah, my brother passed away.
MC: And did you do that from plans or...?
JK: Oh yeah, I bought, he brought me the plans. Robert Allan's plans I think it was that he brought me. I was, I learned enough to read the print. I was able to do it.
MC: So was that a slow process to make that first boat?
JK: Oh yeah. It took us a while. It was nine months I guess.
MB: What kind of boat was it?
JK: It was a fishing boat, a commercial fishing boat.
MB: Like a large one or...?
MC: A gill netter?
JK: Yeah, its a gill netter. It was, I think it was 36 or 37 footer.
MC: Okay. So you say it took about 9 months to build that first one, so once you really got rolling how many would you build?
JK: Well, we only contracted one a year, you know. On top of that we did repair job, a lot of repair jobs.
MC: A lot of repair jobs. I wanted to ask a couple of questions about when you lived on the site, and as a child did you, where there many kids here, many children?
JK: Yeah, there were quite a few.
MC: Like how many?
JK: Oh, its hard to say, you know. There was two or three in a family or sometimes four in a family. And there's quite a few families in the back here. You know, we were originally (on the) other side of Phoenix, where the Phoenix boat basin is now, we were in there first. And then my dad wanted to, well actually we started over at my uncle's place first, you see, together. Then he decided to go on his own. So he had [another] shop way back, back on the main dyke there, there was a little shop there. He rented that out.
MC: Well, that's what is interesting too. Now when you operated out of one of the boatworks here, did you own the building or...?
JK: Well, he built this one, he built that building himself but he rented another small shop way behind, where the main dyke was.
MC: Okay. Do you remember there being an orchard somewhere around here, a fruit orchard?
JK: Well, only the one that Jim (Jimmy Hing) told you about. That grew up [by] the cook house. (cook house for white cannery workers I told you about, you know stealing those pears.
MC: Stealing the pears. So when you'd go on the fruit raids, were you just like, was it a bunch of kids who were doing that kind of stuff?
JK: Yeah, that's right.
MC: Do you remember any of their names?
JK: Oh yeah, I can name some of them but I don't want to name them.
MC: Oh, its too late to get into trouble now. Well lets see, now some of the other people who grew up in this area, like Gerry Miller. Were you....
JK: Gerry Miller was way up the dyke.
MC: So he wouldn't have been...
JK: But Lanky was near, neighbour you know.
MC: Do you remember the Shorey's?
MC: Do you remember, like did...
MC: Barbara, right. Did you ever play with Barbara?
JK: Oh yeah.
MC: She would have come down. Okay. And George (Shorey), do you remember him, as well?
JK: Oh yeah, very well.
MC: What was he like?
JK: Oh, he was a quiet boy. Yeah, I remember him as quiet. But he was big, big boy.
MC: Oh no, this is the son, I was wondering too...
JK: You mean Old George?
MC: Mr. Shorey, yeah.
JK: Oh, he was a small, small man.
MC: Was he?
JK: Yeah, really, small. Always having a pipe. Yeah.
MC: Did, were you restricted as to where you could play?
JK: No, no, no.
MC: You just go where ever you want?
JK: Oh yeah.
MC: Just keep out of the way.
JK: No restrictions at all.
MC: Well, what kind of things did you do to play?
JK: Oh, we used to, play around the net lofts a lot. We used to walk on top of the net lofts, you know and play tag on them.
MC: You mean on those runners?
MC: Oh my gosh. Ever fall in?
JK: Oh yeah. Yeah, but they were on the, you know wharf you see. Somewhere around here was the net loft. We wouldn't worry about falling into the water. Funny thing, I didn't like the water myself, never swam in my life.
MC: As children did you ever play on the river? You know like have a raft or boats, or anything like that?
JK: Oh yeah, when we were kids, yeah.
MC: Now would you have gone to school close by here?
JK: Steveston, Lord Byng School.
MC: Okay, Lord Byng. And then?
JK: And then, after junior high we went to, now its Cambie High. You call that the Richmond High, at that time. Went together with the Mayor, Blair.
MC: Do you remember Mrs. Shorey (now Mackenrot)?
JK: Um huh. She's still, she's still around.
MC: That's right.
JK: She always gives us a phone call, we should go and visit her one day.
MC: She's called you has she?
JK: Um huh, many times.
MC: You should do that, she's I think on the 5th floor of that high rise.
JK: Yeah, I know where she lives.
MC: I was talking with Jack Weinrauch, do you remember that name, Jack?
MC: Okay. And he didn't know...
JK: He was the carpenter here.
MC: And he said that he and his wife were going to go visit one day with Mrs. Shorey.
JK: Oh, she would love it. Course the only thing is she's losing sight I hear.
MC: Yeah. But she likes to talk, she's got lots of stories to tell. Now you told me about some one by the name of Big Ed or was that Ed.
JK: Big Ed.
MC: Was he the foreman?
JK: Oh, he's.... Jim (Jimmy Hing) was telling me about him, I didn't know what his name was. The man I, we asked him to keep our radio. He was a carpenter here, foreman here. It was before the war though. He was real heavy, tall man.
MC: And did he live right on the site, do you remember?
JK: Yeah, right by that cook house.
JK: Right by the cook house.
MC: Now when your father was working in his boat works there. Did he, he didn't work for the Britannia Shipyard?
MC: He just worked for....
JK: For himself, for his own boat shop.
MC: Okay, so...
JK: He had hired men.
MC: How many? How many would have worked there?
JK: He had five regular carpenters working for him all the time. When he get busy he'll hire two, two or three more you know.
MC: Now the work he did, would it have been for other Japanese or was he doing repair work?
JK: No, he was doing, mostly new boats he built.
JK: Was hardly very much repair work done at that time.
MC: Okay. And what kind of boats would he make?
JK: About 26 footers, they were mostly.
MC: Gill netters?
JK: Yeah, all gill netters, 24, 26 footers, they mount drums on it, they had Easthope (engines) in it.
MC: Okay, right the ones that went putt, putt.
JK: Yeah, and my dad used to sell Lister Diesel Engines. I don't know how many he sold now. He was selling diesel too.
MC: He was selling the engines as well?
JK: Um huh.
MC: Okay. So it would have been just people in the community who asked your father to build boats?
JK: No, fishermen from all over the place (coast).
MC: Oh really.
JK: All over the coast. I know we used to build a lot of trollers you know. 38 footers, single cabin trollers. Lots still around I've heard, I haven't seen, I haven't been to the West Coast myself.
MC: Do you remember the names of any of the boats that he built?
JK: I should really but.
MC: We'd love to be able to get some names and then see if there's any still, still around.
JK: I can't remember any right now, but I'll keep my thinking cap on. I used to write the name of them there.
MC: Oh did you?
MC: So you did the labelling on each boat did you? Stencils?
JK: You know stencils. He used to get somebody else but you know, my dad he told me, ""You should be able to do that yourself now"". So I started on it.
MC: So did you have to make the stencils?
MC: You had to cut them.
JK: Had to cut them out. Cut them out and then use them.
MC: Now Jim, was your work seasonal or were you there all year round or...? Sometimes we hear that people fished in the summer and did...
JK: No, I used to work almost all year round when I working with my brother. Its all year round because we used to store a lot of gill netters, you know.
MC: Now, how many boats, when your dad's shop was there, how many boats would he be working on say at one time?
JK: Oh, he used to have three in there, inside the shop.
MC: Three inside, okay.
JK: And sometimes he had a couple on the track outside, you know. Doing some, some [of the repair job] and finishing up the new ones.
MC: And you remember the old winch that was in there, don't you? Like that was the one ....
JK: I was telling you about.
MC: Yeah. So what can you tell us about that, was it a special brand or...?
JK: No, just an ordinary winch. You saw the winch that I had in my other shop, the pictures. I think it was in the tape too. Both same thing, maybe a little wider, maybe you know.
MC: There's an extension on that boat works there, like there's a higher part?
MC: When was that put on?
JK: I think he put that on the same time he built the shop. But he needed to build it higher because he never knew when he was going to build a deeper hull boat so I think he had that from the start, the beginning.
MC: Like how many? Could you give us an idea of how many boats he'd work on in a year?
JK: I have no idea.
MC: A lot?
JK: I know he used to, when he was busy, he used to turn out two fishing boats every month.
MB: At once?
JK: No, in a month.
MB: A month?
MC: He would build two?
JK: 24 or 25 a year.
MC: My gosh.
JK: That's how fast those carpenters were. They really work hard.
MC: And so what kind of hours would they work?
JK: Oh, between 8, 8 and 9 hours I think.
MC: Take regular break times?
JK: Uh huh, yeah.
MC: Now would all of those carpenters, would they all have been Japanese people?
JK: Uh huh.
MC: And probably trained here or trained in Japan?
JK: Most likely trained in Japan, came over here and got the job I think. There's one fellow still in Richmond here.
MC: Who's that?
JK: He used to work for my dad.
MC: Do you know what his name is?
JK: Mr. Kametaro Matsuo, he lives on No. 2 Road.
MC: Number 2 Road. How would you spell that?
JK: Matsuo, M A T S U O.
MC: Okay. Now all these people who came over, would they all bring their own tools with them?
JK: Yeah, most likely they did because they all, they all had the Japanese tool with them.
MB: Did your father ever take on apprentices at all, to train people to boat build? Or did you just...
JK: No, he never did, he never did. And neither did I.
MB: Why not?
JK: I don't know, I wasn't good enough as a teacher I think.
MB: Be a lot of work.
JK: Oh yeah, a lot of responsibility to train someone, to teach the right way I guess.
MC: Did you enjoy doing that Jim?
JK: Oh yeah I loved it, yeah. Otherwise I don't think I would have done it, you know. Because there wasn't really big money in it actually.
MC: What was, what was your best boat? What was the one you remember as your pride?
JK: Everyone of them was my pride. Was none particular one.
MC: Do you remember the names of the boats that you built?
MC: So what would be an example?
JK: The first one was the ""Mystery"".
MC: The ""Mystery"", oh good name. Did you name it that?
JK: No, no, he named it that himself. ""Oh, this is going to be a mystery"", he says.
MC: And who, what was the name of the fellow who commissioned you the first time?
JK: Ken Monroe.
MC: Monroe, okay, Ken Monroe.
JK: I don't know where he is right now. I don't think he's fishing now. But the boat is up north somewhere.
MC: Is it? Is it still in use?
JK: I think so.
MC: You must have done a great job then.
JK: The second one was ""Belle Donna"". Nick Bevandick got that one. Its in the local water here.
MC: Its still here now?
MC: How do you spell that name, the Belle Donna?
JK: Belle Donna. B E L L E, Belle and D O N N A, I think. Nick Bevandick was the fellow's name.
MC: Okay. And then that was number two. Remember other ones you made?
JK: Number three was ""Carol Adam"", still here. I rebuilt the cabin on that one. ""Carol Adam"", and then... I don't know fourth or fifth, could be ""Ethel K"" and ""Julie K"". ""Julie K"" should be in this pond here. I think it must be on the other side. Used to be a cod boat.
MC: A cod boat?
JK: They cut a hole in the hull.
MC: Right and they flood it.
MC: Did you ever do any actual, like go out on the fish boats?
JK: No, never, I don't [like the water very much] myself. Its funny. Well you know, for the test run I went on it, but that's all I did.
MC: That's it.
JK: I don't like the idea of, you know, just wandering around in a small place on the water. I don't think I was scared of the water but I don't know. Just that it didn't feel right to me. So I don't know. But then my father wasn't a fisherman neither you see.
JK: He used to work on the packer, but that's about all.
MC: What would your mom have done all day, you know when your father was in the boat works? What kind of things would she do?
JK: Oh, she was preparing lunch for the carpenters, that sort of thing. Then she used to work in the cannery too.
MC: And she came from Japan as well, a little after?
MC: A while after your dad?
JK: Yeah, four or five years after my dad.
MC: Did they know each other in Japan or did they meet here?
JK: I think they did.
MC: Did they. Do you remember any, what are some of your best memories as being a kid?
JK: I don't know. The best part was when the lightening struck the Britannia Shipyard. And we were in the bedroom and all the room just turned white when the lightening I guess hit. Oh, it scared us that time. That was the most I can remember. And the time when I lost my sister. And then we used to have carpenters staying at our house, you see. I used to sleep upstairs with him. So that's the most I remember.
MC: The carpenters stayed right with you, did they?
JK: Yeah, well he was a bachelor you see. He had a family in Japan so he stayed with my family.
MC: Now the carpenter, when he came over would he have know your dad when he came over?
JK: Yeah, I think he did, I think he did.
MC: So he came over to a specific job.
JK: From a different place in Japan though. I don't know how he found out, you know. They are all from different districts but somehow they were looking for a job maybe and then through customs, I don't know, I'm not sure. But they were good carpenters anyway.
MC: Jim, how old were you when you got married? Were you just a youngster?
JK: No, I got married late.
MC: Late. Too busy with your business for a while?
JK: Oh, I don't know. Yeah, I was too busy with my work. And then I had my mom and dad with me you see, I didn't want to force my wife to be looking after them. But finally she did, she really did for me. But you know, I didn't get married until 31, or 32 I think.
MB: When you had your own boatworks, were the people who worked for you Japanese as well?
JK: Uh huh.
MB: They were all Japanese?
JK: They were all Japanese from Japan.
MB: Were they from Japan as well or did you hire people who lived in Canada?
JK: For myself?
MB: Yeah, for yourself.
JK: No, I never hired anybody.
MB: It was just you then?
JK: Just my brother and myself.
MC: So that would have been....
JK: It wasn't busy enough to hire anybody. Only one time I hired one guy. For a couple of years I think. But that was the only time I hired anybody.
MC: So it was just steady work?
JK: Just steady, yeah.
MC: If you wanted it to have been busier, you could have?
JK: Yeah, if I hired. Well, my dad hired a lot of carpenters and he didn't make very much money. And that was in my mind, you know, at the time. If I hired anybody, you're working for him not for yourself but for him more or less. That was the idea I had in my head all the time. I didn't like hiring anybody. And my, same with my brother. Yeah, he had the same idea. In that case let's do it all ourselves and then we were not good enough to train anybody. There was a lot of young boys who came around here, you know. They can learn, but I told them I'm not good enough to teach anybody. I didn't want to be a teacher. So.
MC: You must have been pretty good because your boats are still in use.
MB: Still floating.
JK: Yeah, I never recaulked my boats yet, before I retired.
MC: You never recaulked?
MC: Good heavens. Good and water tight.
JK: Water tight boats.
MC: Now there's, what is the procedure called. There's a Japanese term for planking, its a Japanese term for. Oh, I wish I knew better terms to describe this.
JK: You mean round bottom or square bottom?
MC: It's a term for how you build your boats like it doesn't have a form.
JK: All boats got to have a form.
MC: Doesn't have a.... Gerry Miller said there's a, its the way that you construct the boats without a frame, or something. Without a frame.
JK: Construction without a frame?
MB: We might have to look that one up.
MC: I'll look it up otherwise its not going to sound like...
JK: To my knowledge you've got to have a form to build a boat. You've got to build a form to (build) the boat.
MC: What is it? I won't try to think about and then it'll come back to me. Oh I know, there was another question. Evidently, there were cows on the site in the winter time. Do you remember those?
JK: Cows? Oh yeah, there was a dairy farm. We used to go to pick up our milk. And there was a German Shepherd there. Oh, I was scared going in there. Two of them too, big, big dogs.
MC: And this was the other side?
JK: It was on Railway and Moncton.
MC: Okay. But do you ever remember there being cows right down on this site here?
JK: No, not on this site.
MC: Somebody told us there was a person who worked here and he had a nickname called, ""Whistling Joe"".
JK: Gee, I don't know.
MC: That doesn't ring a bell. He's a mystery, just like your first boat. Whistling Joe. There's another name, there was a blacksmith here for sometime named George, George Sturgeon. Do you remember him?
JK: Sturgeon. I used to know somebody by the name of Sturgeon but George Sturgeon. No. That person used to work at Number 1, you know where Easthope used to be. Right next door to that, there was a blacksmith there. It was Tom, is all I could remember him. Tom, I don't remember his last name, but Tom is all I could remember. He used to be a blacksmith for almost all of Steveston then. But there was a blacksmith in here too. But I don't know his name.
MC: It might have been, that's who it was. When you were growing up here as a child, were a lot of people living in this area?
JK: Um huh, there were quite a few houses there.
MC: Quite a few.
MB: Did they live here all year round?
JK: Uh huh, yes.
MC: But in the, in the summer months, when the cannery was really operating like a lot of fishing was being done, did it get more crowded here?
JK: No, no. Only time when the quarter (boarding house) was at Hong Wo and the Chinese workers came into that. At Hong Wo, they had a big rooming house, not a rooming house but they had so many rooms in that building. I thought Jim (Jimmy Hing) told you about that.
MC: That was like a boarding house.
JK: Yeah, boarding house.
MC: With a kitchen, yeah, that's right.
JK: Then used to be a row of Chinese going from Hong Wo up to the cannery. With their hands behind their backs, you know. In single file.
MC: Oh really?
JK: Oh yeah, I can't forget that sight. They used to walk like this, with hands behind (their) back, you know and they walked in single file cause the boardwalk wasn't wide.
MC: Oh, I see, so they could pass by if somebody was coming the other direction. I've seen pictures of Chinese workers. Did they often wear, like a dark colour?
JK: No, the khaki seemed to be a favourite colour for them. Khaki and like a greenish colour.
MC: Did you have to wear special protective shoes or anything when you were working in your boat works?
MC: You didn't worry about that. Now you said your Dad's hours of operation were sort of a standard eight hours a day, was that the same for you?
JK: No, I worked more hours.
MC: Did you?
JK: Oh, I went home for lunch and would go home for supper, take a rest, and then I'd go back to my shop and I worked 'til 9, 10 o'clock.
MC: Would this be everyday?
JK: Almost every day.
MC: Seven days a week?
MC: My gosh.
MB: You said you worked with your brother in the boat works, where did he live? Did he live near you?
JK: Well, he lived with me, living with the family until he got married. Now what year was that, that he got married? He was living over at Caprice or Cantrel in Richmond.
MB: So you must be the oldest in the family then.
JK: Yeah. I had another brother but he didn't like carpentry. He studied. He went to university in Spokane and he studied structural engineering. He's on his own right now, with another Chinese fellow in North Vancouver.
MC: In North Van. Tour boat going by. Only one passenger on it. That's a pretty personal tour isn't it.
JK: Well, they'll be losing money on that tour.
MC: Be worth the cost of all the gas to drive him along. Well you know, I think I've finished up my whole list of questions here.
MB: I have one more question, if its something that's not too personal. How did your younger sister die? Was it an accident?
JK: Oh no, she had an operation on her tonsil and complications set in and you know. She really got a high temperature and the doctor couldn't bring her back.
MB: So it was quite sudden then?
JK: Oh yeah, it was real sudden. At that time there was no penicillin or anything like that. If there was penicillin, I think she could have been saved. I'm sure.
MC: And that was at a hospital right here in Steveston?
MB: Was it a Japanese hospital?
JK: Uh huh.
MB: Actually that was the only hospital for a long time.
JK: Yes. I don't know when that Richmond hospital was built. It wasn't there when we left I'm sure.
MC: It looks fairly recent actually.
JK: Its not in my memory anyway, when it was built.
MB: And what year did you come back?
JK: '51, 1951.
MB: So you waited a while to move back here.
JK: Well, we were building in the interior.
MB: Building boats?
JK: Boats in the interior.
MB: Okay. For rivers or just pleasure crafts?
JK: No, we shipped. I told you about them didn't I?
JK: I thought I did.
MB: Not me you didn't.
MC: No, actually I read, I heard about it from....
JK: I thought I showed you a picture of a boat on the flat car. On the CPR.
MC: No, maybe you showed it to Mary. You've got a picture of that?
MC: Oh great. Now that's another reason we have to get back together.
JK: Maybe I should bring that book that my son wrote about me. Maybe I should bring that book out and show it to you.
MC: Oh yes, we'd love to see that. So you built the boats in the interior and then put them on the train?
JK: Yeah, on a flat car and shipped them over.
MC: And they would have been the same kind, like gill netters?
JK: Yeah, I think some of them are still around.
MB: So how did people know to order a boat from you, from the interior?
JK: Well, the fishermen came back, Steveston fishermen came back here. They knew where we were. They knew that my Dad was a boat builder and there wasn't enough boat builders out here at that time. They were so behind on the orders. And Nakade, Nakade was the only one that was here. Oh, Yamanaka.
MC: There was an Atagi.
JK: Atagi, Atagi was late I think coming back here. So there was so much demand for the boat that the boat builders couldn't keep up with the demand and so they ordered from us. Actually we got work from the manager in Phoenix, Mr. John Robertson, he got us an okay, that some fishermen want some boats.
MC: John Robertson?
JK: John Robertson, he was a manager when we left here.
MC: You said Nakade, would that have been a relations to Shin?
JK: Yeah, Shin's brother.
MC: Shin's brother, okay.
JK: Shin was working there too. His dad was still around.
MC: Did Shin grow up here as well? Like did you know him when you were kids?
JK: No, they were more farther down the other side of the Gulf of Georgia. You know, where the old ferry ship is?
MC: Oh yes.
JK: Well, around there.
MC: Would you have gone to school with Shin?
JK: No, he's much older than I am.
MC: Okay, I haven't met Shin yet, but going to though.
JK: Did you talk with Shin already?
MC: No, just I talked with his wife one day. He wasn't home at the time so I have to phone back and set up a time for him to come down as well.
(Conversation about Golf)
MC: Well, thank you Jim, I think we've exhausted all of our questions here.
END OF INTERVIEW