New cultural landmark opens on Vancouver Island, 80 years after Japanese teahouse was destroyed

·2 min read
A new teahouse has been built in Esquimalt, B.C., replacing one destroyed by vandals after the Japanese people who ran it were detained and dispossessed during the Second World War. (Gregor Craigie/CBC - image credit)
A new teahouse has been built in Esquimalt, B.C., replacing one destroyed by vandals after the Japanese people who ran it were detained and dispossessed during the Second World War. (Gregor Craigie/CBC - image credit)

A Japanese cultural landmark on Vancouver Island has been rebuilt, eight decades after it was destroyed.

The first Japanese garden and teahouse in Esquimalt B.C.'s Gorge Park was a fixture in the community for more than three decades before looters and vandals destroyed it in 1942.

During the Second World War, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed people of Japanese descent living in B.C., which included those who established and worked in the teahouse, leaving it empty and uncared for.

Now, a new public building has been erected in its place, a two-storey structure featuring Japanese architecture standing next to the Japanese gardens that remain in the park.

"It is just a dream in wood, water and the stonework and the gardens around it," Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said.

"You can come for a celebration. You can come for contemplation."

Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada

The replacement facility, the Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion, offers rental space for meetings, conferences and other events. In fact, according to pavilion operations manager Dan Henderson, some people have already expressed interest in renting space.

"I think the space will be well used," he said.

The property was taken over by Esquimalt in the 1960s, and since 2009 the city has been caring for the garden.

"This will be a cultural centre both for the Japanese community to come and provide tea ceremonies and have celebrations, but also for our community," Desjardins said.

Each October, the city hosts a Japanese cultural festival to honour the Japanese heritage in the area. Historically, it's been held at a recreation centre, but now it will move to the teahouse, Desjardins said.

"What a phenomenal place this is going to be for that."

Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada

The purpose of the rebuild is to recognize the role the community played in destroying a piece of great cultural significance for its Japanese members, and the history of Japanese internment.

Dillon Takata, whose great-grandfather and great-uncle established the garden and teahouse, told CBC in 2019 that when his grandfather used to visit from Ontario, he took him to the teahouse and garden site and explained the history with no resentment.

"Part of the Japanese culture, I think, is just to sort of accept when bad things happen. You know, you don't complain about it, you just suck it up and move on," Takata said at the time.

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