Origins of Tonari Gumi

by Tamio Wakayama

Established in 1974, Tonari Gumi was a place where all generations and all representatives of our community met and functioned and had joy and had this creative outburst.

Tonari Gumi was set up to provide services for the first generation issei who had returned after the war thinking there would be some semblance of their robust prewar community. The vast majority of them had been Interned during the war, with their property and personal belongings being confiscated and sold at a fraction of their value to finance their own internment.

When the BC government allowed Japanese Canadians to return to the west Coast in April of 1949 almost four years after the end of the second world war, many Nisei found it extremely difficult to get by.  Many of the first generation immigrants still had significant language barriers, and problems of acculturation. This was further compounded by the complete obliteration of their prewar community and personal livelihood.

Despite significant pressure from the federal government to repatriate to Japan, the vast majority of Japanese Canadians decided to remain in Canada with many of them returning to their true homeland on the coast.

It was like the salmon returning to their original spawning beds and the epicentre of that particular activity was Tonari Gumi.

The people who volunteered their time to help our issei are now in need of help themselves. A new generation of Japanese Canadians and new immigrants must now carry the torch of caring and hope. We need to take care of our own.

Today, we are dedicated to providing social, recreational, and educational programs and services for the betterment of the Japanese Canadians and new immigrants in our community and Canadian society.

Our name carries a reminder of the past and hope for the future as volunteers, young and old, work together for the betterment of the community.

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)