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1906~1918: Birth of the School
The Vancouver Japanese Language School was founded in 1906 at a newly-constructed wooden building at 439 Alexander Street, right in the heart of Japan Town. From the early 1880s, early Japanese pioneers to Canada began to settle and work in the Powell Street area, which later became known as "Japan Town". With the growth of more and more Japanese families in the area, the need for a school that taught Japanese and other general subjects for the children of immigrants, also grew. And so, in 1905, under the guidance of the Japanese Consul at the time, a Mr. K. Morikawa, a steering committee consisting of members of the Japanese community was formed to establish a school which taught the Japanese language and other general subjects such as math, history and science.
1918~1941: Early Years
As a result of more immigrants desiring to have their children educated in both English and Japanese, in 1919, the policy of the school was changed to drop the instruction of general subjects and to focus on Japanese language instruction only. Children would thus attend regular Canadian public schools in English and go to learn Japanese language after school. As more immigrants settled in Japan Town, the VJLS also increasingly played a vital role as a community gathering place and organization. In 1928, a new building was built to accommodate the growing needs of the school population as well as the Japanese Canadian community. It was renamed, the Japanese Hall and Vancouver Japanese Language School to recognize its critical role as a community and cultural organization.
1941~1952: Lost Years
With the outbreak of the Second World War in the Pacific in December of 1941, the School, whose population at the time was more than 1000 students, was forced to close its doors. As part and parcel of the physical internment of all Japanese Canadians to 100 miles east of the west coast, the Canadian Government confiscated all private, commercial, and community properties and businesses owned by Japanese Canadians.
From July of 1942 to August 1947, the VJLS facilities was occupied by the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1947, the government sold half of the VJLS property and facilities to pay for maintenance expenses accumulated during the war. From 1947, the remaining building on 475 Alexander Street was rented to the Army and Navy Department Store until 1952.
1953~ : Post-war Years Triumph and Rebuilding
In April of 1949 when freedom of movement and resettlement was finally granted to Japanese Canadians, some Japanese Canadians moved back to Vancouver and began the process of rebuilding their lives and their community. Despite the setback of the war and the lost years, there were many who still believed that learning Japanese was important to the identity of their children and to rebuilding the identity and pride of their shattered community.
As a result of the valiant efforts of many in the community who fought to reopen the School, the remaining half of the VJLS property was restored to the Japanese Canadian community in 1953. Out of all the Japanese Canadian properties, cars, homes, and businesses that were confiscated and never returned to their former owners, the VJLS stands alone as the only property among any Japanese Canadian private citizen, business or organization to retain ownership after the war. As the one remaining physical and community link from before the war, it symbolized and continues to symbolize the courage, perseverance, and resilient spirit of the Japanese Canadian community.
The 21st Century and Beyond: Spreading Our Wings
The VJLS-JH has continued to evolve and reflect the changing needs and fabric of Canada's multicultural society. With the emergence of Japan as an economic, technological and cultural leader, the importance of Japanese as an international language and the need for multi-cultural and multi-lingual global communicators and citizens has grown immensely. Traditionally, our students came mostly from the Japanese Canadian community, but now the origins of our student population stem from over 12 different countries. Moreover, our role as bridge between Canada and Japan on the international level, as well as between the local Japanese Canadian and multi-cultural communities strengthens everyday.
We continue to provide Japanese language and cultural education, and in response to changing societal needs, we have developed new and unique programs. One of very popular recent program developments is the early childhood education program, Kodomo no Kuni. Exposing pre-schoolers to a second language at the earliest possible age, it provides a language/culture-enriched day-school program.
To embrace the new century and its growing role of VJLS-JH as a center for multi-cultural education and culture and community programs, in the Year 2000, the VJLS-JH built a new spacious facility adjoining the original 1928 building (now a designated heritage building).
Building on our proud heritage of education and community for 100 years, VJLS-JH continues to spread our wings to meet the challenges and new objectives for the next 100 years.