Leading up to the Second World War, people of Japanese ancestry living across North America were faced with ongoing racism and discrimination.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawai’i, USA on December 7, 1941, Japanese community leaders were immediately detained and fishing boats were seized. Less than a year later, over 22,000 Japanese Canadians and approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were removed from their homes and forced inland. In 1945, after the Second World War ended, Japanese Americans were permitted to return to the coast.

Meanwhile, in 1944, those living in Canada were ordered to move east of the Rocky Mountains or be exiled to Japan. Japanese Canadians weren’t allowed to return to the coast until 1949.

As a result of this complex history, our communities have become fractured in many ways. Culture, community, and language have been lost for some, and stories have not always been carried down to younger generations.

The following maps are a guide illustrating where Japanese Canadians and Americans were interned and incarcerated during the Second World War. Unlike the information available on internment camps and self-supporting sites located in British Columbia, details on exact locations of sugar beet camps in Canada are not as readily available. However, it is safe to assume most of them were within the lower regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

As complex as the history of people of Japanese ancestry is in North America, the descriptive language used is rife with euphemisms and subject to controversy. This is an attempt by curators, scholars, and historians to clarify some of the complexities and nuances, but is still open to date. For the purposes of The Suitcase Project, the following language has been used.

determining the generations

Issei: The first to immigrate to North America from Japan
Nisei: The second generation, first born in North America
Sansei: The third generation, born in North America to nisei parents and issei grandparents
Yonsei: The fourth generation
Gosei: The fifth generation
Rokusei: The sixth generation

Japanese or Japanese Canadian/American?

In recognition of those who faced the brunt of racism in the country they were born or naturalized into, it is crucial to refer to citizens as Japanese Canadian or Japanese American and not Japanese. Forced uprooting was both a Canadian and American action, not a Japanese one. For younger generations, thanks to the privileges won for them by their elders, they have no doubt of their citizenship. Taking pride in their Japanese heritage and identifying as Japanese does not negate their Canadian or American identity.


Internment 🔴
Incarceration 🔴🔵

Internment camp 🔴
Concentration camp 🔵

Second World War 🔴
World War II or WWII 🔵

When discussing Japanese Canadian 🔴 and Japanese American 🔵 history.

*The above references are meant to be used for context related to The Suitcase Project. For educational and research resources, please refer to the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre for Japanese Canadian history, and to Densho for Japanese American history.