The Commemorative Landscape as a Space of Anti-Racist Activism

Confronting the Legacies of Anti-Japanese Canadian Racism on Vancouver Island


  • Ian G. Baird Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin–Madison


In 1942, Japanese Canadians living in coastal British Columbia, Canada, were forcibly incarcerated in internment camps far from the Pacific coast and had their fishing boats and other property confiscated and auctioned off. At the end of World War II, they expected to return to the coast, but permission was not granted until 1949. Some were sent to Japan, and many others migrated east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1988, the Canadian federal government acknowledged the wrongs committed as part of Redress, but in more localized spaces, little was acknowledged. The silence was deafening. In this article, I consider recent anti-racist work to address the legacies of anti-Japanese Canadian racism in Central Vancouver Island. This includes: (1) advocating to change the names of a school and street in Port Alberni honorifically named after A.W. Neill, (2) removing an anti-Asian racist covenant from properties that A.W. Neill owned in Port Alberni, (3) activism to receive a public apology for a 1947 city council resolution to not allow returning Japanese Canadians in Tofino, and (4) memorializing a pre-WWII Japanese Canadian community in Cumberland. These efforts can be theorized as anti-racist work associated with Japanese Canadian spaces. This article contributes to critical human geography by emphasizing that while national level efforts to reconcile past wrongs are crucial, localized work also requires considerable attention. It is therefore necessary to be attentive to the importance of scale with regard to the geographies of anti-racist activism and the remaking of commemorative landscapes.


Adachi, Ken. 1976. The Enemy that Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Steward.

Alderman, Derek, Rodrigo Narro Perez, LaToya E. Eaves, Phil Klein, and Solange Muñoz. 2021. Reflections on operationalizing an anti-racism pedagogy: Teaching as regional storytelling. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 45(2), 186-200.

Alderman, Derek H. and Joshua Inwood. 2016. Mobility as antiracism work: The “hard driving” of NASCAR’s Wendell Scott. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 597-611.

Alderman, Derek H. and Joshua Inwood. 2013. Street naming and the politics of belonging: spatial injustices in the toponymic commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Social & Cultural Geography 14(2), 211-233.

Bailey, Andrew. 2019. Tofino council apologizes for 1947 motion to ‘exclude Orientals’, The Westerly, June 3.

Bailey, Andrew. 2012. BC Government apologizes for Japanese internment camps, The Westerly News, May 17.

Baird, Ian G. 2020. The politics of honorific names: Alan Webster Neill and anti-Japanese Canadian Racism in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. Landscapes of Injustice: A New Perspective on the Internment and Dispossession of Japanese Canadians, Jordan Stanger-Ross (ed.). Montreal, PQ: McGill University Press, pp. 418-434.

Baird, Ian G. 2019. Developing an anti-racism methodology: Considering Japanese and white Canadian fishermen relations in Nanaimo, B.C., Canada. Canadian Ethnic Studies 51(2), 107-130.

Baird, Ian G. 2018. An anti-racism methodology: The Native Sons and Daughters and racism against Asians in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. The Canadian Geographer 62(3), 300-313.

BC Land Title and Survey. 2019. Land Title Practice Note on the Cancellations of Discriminating Covenants,, accessed December 8.

Benjamin, Stefanie and Derek Alderman. 2018. Performing a different narrative: Museum theater and the memory-work of producing and managing slavery heritage at southern plantation museums. International Journal of Heritage Studies 28(3), 270-282.

Borszcz, Peter. 2011. Covenants, BC Real Estate Law Blog, December 14,, accessed December 8, 2019.

Bossin, Bob. 1981. Settling Clayoquot. Victoria, BC: Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Provincial Secretary and Govt. Services, Provincial Archives, Sound and Moving Image Division.

CBC. 2019. Students help remove racist covenant from Vancouver Island home, September 10.

CBC. 2014. Vancouver real estate racist covenants remnant of dark history, August 27.

Coulthard, Glen Sean. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis, MI and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Craig, Pam. 2019. For Immediate Release. School District 70 (Alberni), Port Alberni, BC, November 20.

Daniels, Roger, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry Kitano. 1991. Japanese Americans from Relocation to Redress. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Eaves, LaToya. 2020. Fear of an other geography. Dialogues in Human Geography 10(1), 34–36.

Fentress, James J. and Chris Wickman. 1992. Social Memory: New Perspectives on the Past. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Fukawa, Masako and Stan Fukawa. 2009. Spirit of the Nikkei Fleet: BC's Japanese Canadian Fishermen. Vancouver, BC: Harbour Press.

Graham, Kim. 2019. Letter to Justin, Sarah, Katie and Ms. Ostwald, BC Land Title and Survey, February 7.

Haluschak, Erin. 2019. Cumberland’s historic human ‘encyclopedia’ honoured with heritage award. Vancouver Island Free Daily, June 1.

Hamilton, Wawmeesh. 2019. Name change considered for B.C. elementary school that commemorates racist politician. CBC News, December 7.

Hamilton, Wawmeesh. 2018. One town, two worlds: Reconciliation in Port Alberni, A collaboration between CBC Indigenous and Discourse Media, January 20.

Harrison, Valerie. 2019. LETTER: Social justice students remove racially restrictive covenant from Port Alberni home, Alberni Valley News, September 18.

Hayashi, Kotaro, Fumio Kanno, Henry Tanaka, and Jim Tanaka. 2017. Changing Tides: Vanishing Voices of Nikkei Fishermen and Their Families. Burnaby, BC: Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre.

Hills, Lloyd A. 2019. LETTER: AW Neill shouldn’t be vilified in this day and age for decisions made in a different era, Alberni Valley News, October 25.

Homma, Keiki Tenney-Sean Homma and Carey Georgia Isaksson. 2008. Tomekichi Homma: The Story of a Canadian. Surrey, BC: Hancock House Publishers.

Hopper, Tristin. 2014. BC property titles bear reminders of a time when race-based covenants kept neighbourhoods white, National Post, May 16.

Hume, Stephen. 2002. Cultural imperialism: When Cumberland officials decided to redevelop their bulldozed Chinatown, they consulted with many community groups -- but ignored the Chinese themselves, Vancouver Sun, January 12.

Irons, Peter. 1993. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Kage, Tatsuo. 2012. Uprooted Again: Japanese Canadians Move to Japan after World War II. Toronto, ON: TI-JEAN Press.

Kendall, Marisa. 2019. Racist covenants shock homebuyers, Victoria Times Colonist, March 2.

Kobayashi, Audrey, Reuben Rose-Redwood, Sonja Aagesen and The Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective. 2018. Exile: mapping the migration patterns of Japanese Canadians exiled to Japan in 1946. Journal of American Ethnic History 37(4), 73-89

Kobayashi, Audrey. 2014. The dialectic of race and the discipline of geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104(6), 1101-1115.

Kobayashi, Audrey. 1992. The Japanese-Canadian redress settlement and its implications for ‘race relations.’ Canadian Ethnic Studies 24(1), 1-19.

Loukidelis, David and Ann Hillyer. 1992. Using Conservation Covenants to Preserve Private Land in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation.

MacLeod, Andrew. 2019. Righting the wrongs done to BC’s Japanese Canadians, The Tyee, November 25.

Matas, Robert. 2011/2017. Former B.C. mayor honoured over efforts for Japanese Canadians. The Globe and Mail, July 20, 2011, Updated March 26, 2017.

McKittrick, Kathrine. 2014. Mathematics black life. The Black Scholar 44(2), 16–28.

Meissner, Dirk. 2019. B.C. school board launches public effort to rebrand school named after 'racist' former federal MP. The Canadian Press, December 18.

Miki, Art. 2004. Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice. Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books.

Miki, Keiko. 2019. District of Tofino Apologizes for 1947 Discriminatory Motion. Report on the Apology Issued by the District of Tofino, May 28.

Miki, Roy and Cassandra Kobayashi. 1991. Justice in Our Time: The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver, BC and Winnipeg, MB: Talonbooks and National Association of Japanese Canadians.

Nash, Catherine. 2003. Cultural geographies: Anti-racist geographies. Progress in Human Geography 27(5), 637–648.

National Park Service. 2010. Easements to Protect Historic Properties: A Useful Historic Preservation Tool with Potential Tax Benefits. Washington DC: Technical Preservation Services, Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service.

Neal, Andy. 2018. Village of Cumberland gets over $100,000 funding to attract tourists, March 19.

O’Malley, Orla. 2016. Removing discriminatory covenants from your property, October 19.

Oikawa, Mona. 2012. Cartographies of Violence: Japanese Canadian Women, Memory, and the Subjects of the Internment. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Oswin, Natalie. 2020. An other geography. Dialogues in Human Geography 10(1): 9-18.

Petrescu, Sarah. 2017. In Port Alberni, historic rifts surface over a street name that some say honours a racist, Victoria Times Colonist, January 29.

Port Alberni News 1926. Japs entertain guests at Tofino, December 22.

Price, John. 2007/08. ‘Orienting’ the Empire: Mackenzie King and the aftermath of the 1907 race riots. BC Studies 156, 53-81.

Pulido, Laura. 2002. Race, class, and political activism: Black, Chicana/o, and Japanese-American leftists in Southern California, 1968––1978. Antipode 34(4), 762––788.

Rardon, Elena. 2019. Name change pondered for Vancouver Island school named after racist MP, Vancouver Island Free Daily, September 13.

Rardon, Elena. 2021. Former A.W. Neill School to formally receive new name Sept. 29, Alberni Valley Times, September 23.

Richardson, Angela. 2006. Park Projection Study: Perseverance Creek Historic Park, Village of Cumberland. On behalf of the Chinatown/No. 1 Japanese Town Ad-Hoc Group, Cumberland, BC.

Roy, Patricia E. 1989. White Man's Province: British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

Roy, Patricia E. 2003. The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man’s Province, 1914-1941. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

Slocum, Rachel. 2006. Anti-racist practice and the work of community food organizations. Antipode 38(2), 327-349.

Smithsonian. n.d. Being antiracist.

Stanger-Ross, Jordan, Nicholas Blomley, and the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective. 2017. ‘My land is worth a million dollars’: How Japanese Canadians contested their dispossession in the 1940s. Law and History Review 35(3), 711-751.

Stanger-Ross, Jordan and the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective. 2016. Suspect properties: The Vancouver origins of the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property, WWII. Journal of Planning History 15(4), 271-289.

Sunahara, Ann G. 1981. The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company.

Sweet, Elizabeth L. 2021. Anti-Blackness/Nativeness and erasure in Mexico: Black feminist geographies and Latin American decolonial dialogues for U.S. urban planning. Journal of Race, Ethnicity and the City 2(1), 78-92.

Tofino City. 2019. Tofino Council Formal Apology to Japanese-Canadians, May 28,, accessed December 8, 2019.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. 2012. Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society 1(1), 1–40.

Truman, Sarah E. and Stephanie Springgay. 2019. Queer walking tours and the affective contours of place. Cultural Geographies in Practice 26(4), 527–534.

Tyner, James A. 2016. Hate-crimes as racial violence: A critique of the exceptional. Social & Cultural Geography 17(8), 1060-1078.

Ward, W. Peter. 2002. White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy Toward Orientals in British Columbia, 3rd ed. Montreal, PQ and Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

West Coast Advocate. 1942a. Japanese to be evacuated quickly, March 5.

West Coast Advocate. 1942b. Jap evacuation nearly complete, March 16.

Wiwchar, David. 2019. Tofino apologizes for racist resolution, The Peak, May 29.

Wright, Willie J. 2021. As above, so below: Anti-black violence as environmental racism. Antipode 53(3), 791-809.

Wright, Willie J. 2017. Memorial for Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2016. Southeastern Geographer 57(1), 1–3.

Youds, Mike. 2019. Alberni high school students help remove racist covenant from historic house, Alberni Valley News, September 3.




How to Cite

Baird, I. G. (2022). The Commemorative Landscape as a Space of Anti-Racist Activism: Confronting the Legacies of Anti-Japanese Canadian Racism on Vancouver Island. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 21(5), 585–602. Retrieved from



Special Issue - Monumentality, Memoryscapes, and the Politics of Place