Recognition, Apology and Redress

A building to call their own…and an apology for mistreatment

In 1975, the official boards of the Japanese- and English-speaking congregations wrote to the Metropolitan Council of the United Church in the Lower Mainland, by then occupying part of the former Fairview Japanese church building. Administration and property were among the responsibilities of the Metropolitan Council at that time. In its letter, the Vancouver Japanese United Church outlined the history of the Powell Street property, its sale to Welfare Industries, and the fact that the Vancouver Japanese church had never benefited from the sale of the property. Proceeds from the sales of other Japanese United Church buildings in BC had been put into a special trust fund held in Toronto and used to help new Japanese churches across the rest of Canada.

To the Metropolitan Council, the Japanese congregations expressed their hopes and dreams:

“Some day we would like to have a church building of our own or on a cooperative basis some facilities that we can feel is our church home rather than a tenant relationship.”[44]

Excerpt from the Joint Board’s letter of appeal to the Metropolitan Council, Oct. 27, 1975

They also expressed their strong feeling that if the Fairview property (now Columbia Street Mission) should ever be sold, the proceeds be kept in a special trust fund for the Vancouver Japanese United Church. When the Fairview property was sold in 1977, assets from the sale were forwarded to the Division of Mission in Canada, which established several funds—one of which was a Lower Mainland Japanese fund, to be administered by the Metropolitan Council.

Both Japanese- and English-speaking congregations had been tenants in St. Luke’s United Church at 4010 Victoria Drive since the early 1970s. St. Luke’s was a dwindling congregation and ready to sell. The Metropolitan Council supplied a $20,000 grant from the trust fund toward the purchase of the property, and in 1978 the Vancouver Japanese United Church finally had a building to call its own.

Tosh Seki signing for the purchase of St. Luke’s United Church on Victoria Drive, Jan. 21, 1978; lawyer Jon Jessiman, right

But the matter of the Powell Street Church sale remained unresolved.

While Rev. Maki Fushii was the minister of both the Japanese- and English-speaking congregations (October 2004 to July 2008), she heard from a number of older members about their war and post-war experiences in British Columbia. Second generation church members, including May Komiyama and Rev. Gordon Imai, shared their bitter experiences about the process surrounding the sale of the former Powell Street and Columbia Street church buildings. Rev. Fushii raised it with the Executive Secretary of BC Conference. The Conference Archives corroborated their testimony.

At its general meeting in May 2009, BC Conference made a statement of recognition and apology to members of the Vancouver Japanese United Church. This was followed in June by a special service of reconciliation, held at the Vancouver Japanese United Church, and a restatement of the recognition and apology at the 40th General Council (2009) in Kelowna.

BC Conference President Hilde Seal delivers the apology, May 22, 2009

At that time, the matter of compensation was discussed but it was decided to leave further discussion until later because it deserved more focused attention.

The Conference and representatives of the congregation had several discussions over the ensuing decade. The congregation finally made a clear request in 2018, and both BC Conference and the General Council accepted equal responsibility for what happened and therefore shared the compensation equally.

At a worship celebration and ceremonial payment on December 8, 2018, the Moderator of The United Church of Canada and the Executive Secretary of BC Conference presented the Vancouver Japanese United Church with a $500,000 redress payment. The celebration was graced by stories from Pastor George Takashima, who had attended the Powell Street kindergarten; Gordon Kadota, a long-time member of the English-speaking congregation; and Rev. Tad Mitsui, who had served the postwar congregation from 1958 to 1968.

The Vancouver English-speaking congregation formally disbanded in 2017. The Japanese-speaking congregation continues, and is one of only a few Japanese United Church congregations remaining in Canada.  The congregation meets weekly for services in Japanese and holds joint bilingual services (English and Japanese) once a month.

The congregation after the joint bilingual service, Christmas Sunday, 2019; leading the flock is Rev. Daebin Im, front row, far left
[44] Letter from Vancouver Japanese United Church to Fred Fisher, Metropolitan Council, October 27, 1975, PMRC Archives, United Church of Canada Board of Home Missions fonds, box 244, file 10.