Shotaru Shimizu donated 1,500 cherry trees to the City of Prince Rupert in 1959 and 1960. The trees were a token of his gratitude to the city for helping him start his life in Canada. (Eddie Doolan / Facebook photo)

Feds chop down historic cherry trees in Northern B.C.

After being interned in 1942, Shotaru Shimizu donated 1,500 cherry trees to Prince Rupert

Seventy-six years to the day after Shotaru Shimizu was forced out of Prince Rupert on trains bound for internment camps, the cherry trees he gave as gifts to the city were nearly all cut down.

On Friday, March 23, Rupertites were shocked when they witnessed saws being taken to the cherry trees at the corner of Fourth Street and Second Avenue. So far, three of the seven trees next to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans buildings on that block have been removed, with no warning being given to the city.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert’s cherry trees chopped

The spot was a favourite for many who enjoyed witnessing the beauty of the trees in full spring bloom or ate under their shade at lunch.

“Those trees have been here longer than the people have been in office,” said Lorne Stewart, who was one of several observers voicing their displeasure. “I’ve had my lunch break out there for years under the shade tree.”

While many of the observers knew the trees had been there for a long time, none knew the story of Shotaru Shimizu, the Japanese immigrant who donated them to the city.

Shimizu, affectionately known by his friends as Tom, moved to Prince Rupert in 1905 to work on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. As was the case with many people in the city at that time, Shimizu was attracted to the potential of Prince Rupert as a gateway to Asia for North American goods.

When grand plans for Prince Rupert died with Charles Hays aboard the Titanic, Shimizu shifted his focus, opening a 30-room hotel and restaurant with a partner called the New Dominion on Third Avenue in 1917.

There with his young family, Shimizu built a business that flourished. Henry Shimizu, Shotaru’s son, remembers doing chores in the restaurant as a child.

“I was only 13 at the time, and the only thing I ever did was fold napkins for the various tables with my cousin,” Henry said. “We used to put them in a glass cup and we would put them on all the tables.”

The New Dominion continued to be successful through the depression and in the early stage of the Second World War, as labourers came to the town to help build ships. Everything changed, however, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, and the country turned on its Japanese citizens.

On February 26, 1942 Shimizu was told that his family would be removed from Prince Rupert. On Monday March 23, 1942, Shimizu left the city on the very trains he had helped to build decades earlier.

Henry, now 81-years-old, remembers his classmates coming to see him at the train station before he left.

“They thought I was going on a vacation or something, but I didn’t have any idea where I was going,” he said.

The family spent approximately four years at an internment camp in New Denver. During that time, the hotel he built was seized and sold by the Custodian of Enemy Property. By the time they left the camp, the life they had built on the northwest coast was gone.

“I remember an official saying that I was a Canadian-born, enemy alien, which never made any sense to me,” said Henry. “How can you be both Canadian and an enemy alien?”

After leaving the internment camp in 1946, Shimizu moved his family to Edmonton where they started their lives over, but he remained fond of Prince Rupert despite the circumstances under which he left the city.

READ MORE: Heritage BC looks for Japanese sites

“He enjoyed Prince Rupert, and felt that he had prospered to some degree,” Henry said. “And he wanted to try and give something back for what he had received.”

In 1959, Shimizu arranged for 500 Japanese cherry blossom trees to be imported into the country and planted at various locations in Prince Rupert including the cemetery, Port Edward School, the Miller Bay Indian Hospital — and the newly constructed federal building at the corner of Fourth Street and Second Avenue. Private citizens also received trees for their personal gardens.

A year later, another 1,000 cherry blossoms were donated to the town, and Peter J. Lester, who was mayor of Prince Rupert at the time, expressed his gratitude for the gift in a letter dated May 4, 1960.

“I wish to thank you once again for your generous gift of 1,000 cherry trees,” Lester said in his letter. “I think in time to come, when those trees are in bloom throughout the city, people will be even more appreciative than they are now.”

Gregory Shimizu, Shotaru’s grandson, said his grandfather was beginning to lose his sight when the donations were being made, but he wanted to leave something that would last.

“He was creating this thing that people could see that couldn’t be taken away,” Gregory said.

Shimizu passed away in 1981, far from the city where he first made his life in Canada, and the trees he gave to make it more beautiful.



matthew.allen@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Fernie arena tragedy “wake up call” for global refrigeration industry

Technical Safety BC’s incident report shared across 60 countries, reaching as far as Poland

Lake Koocanusa under the microscope

Wildsight, Sierra Club BC, Headwaters Montana and U.S. university launch water sampling program

Province offers support ahead of Fernie arena tragedy anniversary

Loss of three men in workplace incident motivates Labour Minister to make B.C. safer

Fernie Mayor reflects on arena tragedy

Mayor Mary Giuliano speaks about how she felt following the arena tragedy in an exclusive interview

VIDEO: Miniature horse predicts Elk Valley election result

Yay or neigh? Cowboy the miniature horse chooses the next mayors of Fernie and Sparwood

Secret supper clubs test appetite for cannabis-infused food ahead of legalization

Chefs are eagerly awaiting pot edibles to become legal in Canada

Meet the City of Fernie candidates

Voters in Fernie will vote for one Mayor, six Councillors and one School Board Trustee on October 20

Meet the District of Sparwood candidates

Voters in Sparwood will vote for one Mayor and six Councillors on October 20

Meet the District of Elkford candidates

The Elkford Chamber of Commerce will host an All Candidates Forum on October 4

HPV vaccine does not lead to riskier sex in teen girls: UBC

Girls are less likely to have sex now than they were a decade ago

Koreas agree to break ground on inter-Korean railroad

The rival Koreas are holding high-level talks Monday to discuss further engagement amid a global diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Flash floods kill at least 7 people in southwest France

Flash floods have left several people dead in southwest France, with roads swept away and streams become raging torrents as the equivalent of several months of rain fell overnight, authorities said Monday.

Trump to visit Florida, Georgia; search ongoing for missing

The death toll from Michael’s destructive march from Florida to Virginia stood at 17.

Canadians widely unaware of accomplishments of famous women, poll suggests

A new poll suggests Canadians have a lot to learn about the accomplishments of some of the country’s most famous women.

Most Read