Medical Work

Profile: Dr. Kozo Shimotakahara
Dr. Kozo and Nobu Shimotakahara, [ca. 1916]
One of the more celebrated members of the Powell Street Church was Kozo Shimotakahara. A student of the Sunday school, he put himself through post-secondary school at Columbian Methodist College (New Westminster), then attended Chicago University and studied medicine. After he graduated with a medical degree in 1915, he returned to Vancouver and stayed at the dormitory in the Powell Street Church. Dr. Shimotakahara opened his own practice at the corner of Powell and Main. He and Nobu Kusama of the WMS were married.[19]

[19] Osterhout, Orientals in Canada, 139.

A Temporary Hospital

The Japanese community rallies to treat and care for their own

Volunteer hospital staff in the Strathcona School kitchen, 1918

The Powell Street Church began providing medical services at the end of the First World War, when the Spanish influenza hit. Hospitals in Vancouver were filled with Caucasian flu patients, and those who were ill in the Japanese community were unable to receive treatment. Yasuno Akagawa was a nurse and a member of the Powell Street congregation. She and her husband, the Rev. Yoshimitsu Akagawa, along with the WMS, received permission from City Council to use Strathcona School as a temporary hospital for Japanese suffering from the flu.

The story of the temporary flu hospital raises all kinds of emotional responses: the racism Japanese Canadians suffered, the self-sacrificing love the church members offered each other, even putting their own lives on the line… Amazing, and humbling.

Rev. Dan Chambers, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (Vancouver)

The hospital was opened on October 20, 1918 and closed a few weeks later on November 11 (for reasons now unknown). All Japanese doctors and nurses were conscripted, including Dr. Shimotakahara, his wife, Nobu, and Nurse Akagawa. Many church people volunteered. The Rev. Akagawa served as director of the hospital; WMS workers Etta DeWolfe, Jessie Howie, Tadako Hibi, and Suno Yamazaki took responsibility for the nursing staff and kitchen.  During the ordeal, many staff and volunteers caught the flu and some died. According to Rev. Tadashi Mitsui, the 1918 flu was actually a turning point in the broader Japanese community’s perception of the church, bringing it into a more positive light.[20]

[20] Mitsui, 110.

A Free Clinic
Children having lung and heart exams at the clinic, [between 1929 and 1942]
In 1929, Dr. Shimotakahara, now an elder and Sunday school superintendent, furthered the work of the church in giving practical care to the community. He gathered seven other Japanese doctors and began a free clinic, held once a month, for babies and children. The clinic was opened under the auspices of the Vancouver Japanese Women’s Auxiliary and the Kindergarten Mothers Group.[21]

Within a few short years, in response to an alarming incidence of tuberculosis among the Vancouver Japanese population, Dr. Shimotakahara and others in the community approached the City’s Department of Health, offering to open a free medical clinic at the church, under the supervision of the department. In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, the free clinic opened in the gym of the Powell Street Church. The Department of Health provided the clinic’s supplies and sent two nurses to the clinic but organizations within the Japanese community provided funding. Women of the church donated countless hours of service in these clinics.[22] Dr. Shimotakahara and his colleague, Dr. Uchida, volunteered their services. The clinic provided free inoculations against diphtheria and smallpox, and hosted lectures and films to educate the community on public health.[23]

Although it moved to 474 East Pender Street, the clinic continued to operate until the federal government evacuated the community from the coast in 1942.

[21] Ibid., 190.

[22] McFadden, 11.

[23] Kawano, A History, 24-25.

Helping the Destitute

In response to the hardships and extreme poverty imposed by the Great Depression, the congregation joined forces with Japanese congregations in New Westminster and Steveston and opened the United Church Service Department in 1933. The Woman’s Missionary Society and the Woman’s Association handled distribution of the goods. The Powell Street congregation organized an AOTS (As One that Serves) men’s club the following year, mainly to join with the women in supporting the Service Department and to visit Japanese patients in hospital. The groups held concerts and thrift sales to raise funds. [24]

[24] Mitsui, 196.