Gabriola locations among Heritage BC’s newly designated Japanese-Canadian historic sites

Submitted by Ivan Bulic

Gabriola Historical and Museum Society

Tuesday, April 11 2017

On April 1, BC Minister for Multiculturalism Teresa Wat announced a list of 56 historic sites with significance to Canadians of Japanese descent. They include two locations in Silva Bay - the Sunrise Sawmill and Koyama’s Fishcamp. The 56 sites were selected from more than 176 province-wide places nominated last year as part of Heritage BC’s Japanese-Canadian Historic Places Project.

The Sunrise Sawmill, built by Yoshimatsu Shinde in 1918 on land leased from John Silva at the head of Silva Bay, produced more than 15,000 board feet of lumber per day in its heyday and was a major employer on Gabriola. After fire destroyed the mill in 1925, it was never rebuilt.

The Gabriola Directory for 1934 listed Kanshiro Koyama as operating a general store and fish-buying wharf on the southwest shore of Silva Bay, where Pages Marina is today. Koyama’s fish camp included a store and living quarters on floats. 

The store stocked canned goods, tobacco, soft drinks, candy, bits and pieces of hardware, lamp mantles, wicks, candles, kerosene, naphtha, motor oils and other necessities of island life.

 Gabriola Museum Photo

In 1942, the Koyamas were among the 22,000 persons of Japanese origin, half of them Canadian citizens, forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and interned in prison camps away from the Pacific Coast. The Koyamas’ Silva Bay property was purchased in 1943 by the Page brothers who continued to operate the store and fish-buying camp.

The Sunrise Sawmill and Koyama fishcamp sites are historically important as reminders of the multicultural origins of Silva Bay that included First Nations, Portuguese, Japanese and European settlers. 

The two sites were nominated for Heritage BC recognition by the Gabriola Historical and Museum Society following extensive research and documentation including Phyllis Reeve’s article, “The Japanese-Canadians of Silva Bay,” in the March 2011 issue of the museum journal SHALE.

The 56 Japanese sites will be listed with statements of significance on the BC Register of Historic Places and appear on an interactive map produced by Heritage BC: https://secure.heritagebc.ca/japanese-canadian-map/?lang=en.

Heritage BC’s announcement coincided with the 75th anniversary of the start of Japanese internment between 1942 and 1949, when Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from the BC coast.

To learn more about Japanese settlements in Silva Bay go to gabriolamuseum.org