Photos of letter, postcard and photos

From upper left corner: photo of Yosh Nakamura (July 1942); postcard from Setsuko Fuji to Joan Gillis (May 17, 1943); letter from Yosh Nakamura to Joan Gillis (July 25 1942); photo of young woman, Setsuko Fuji; and photo of Yosh Nakamura, Jackie Takahashi and friend on a tractor.

UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired an extraordinary collection of letters that provide unique insight into the devastating effects of the Japanese Canadian internment during World War II.

The collection of 147 letters, written to donor Joan Gillis in 1942 by a group of young Japanese Canadians she met while attending Queen Elizabeth Secondary School in Surrey, talk of daily life and the challenges faced by these young people after being ordered out of the “Security Zone” on the B.C. coast, and are filled with frequent references to acute homesickness and sadness at being removed from their homes. The writers range in age from 13 to 18. Some were very close friends with Gillis, while others were casual acquaintances.

Laura Ishiguro, an historian of Canada and the British Empire at UBC, said the letters will be an important teaching tool at UBC, contributing to new and better interpretations in classroom discussions about the internment of Japanese Canadians.

“Existing narratives around the internment tend to focus on Japanese Canadian people in isolation from others, or on the ideas and actions of major government figures, with the Japanese Canadian community rendered largely faceless victims of tragedy,” said Ishiguro. “With these letters, my students and I could explore a different war-time history from the perspective of young people.”

Henry Yu, a professor in the UBC history department, said the letters provide a window into the lives of school children going through a traumatic time in B.C.’s history.

“One of the most effective ways for people to understand the devastating effects of the forcible removal of over approximately 23,000 Japanese Canadians in 1942 and their subsequent exile through the sale of their property and possessions is not in the abstract numbers that measure their monetary loss or the numbers of people dispossessed and exiled, but in the rare and raw moments when we can see the effects through the eyes of those who suffered them,” said Yu. “Letters such as those sent to Ms. Gillis from school friends are so powerful precisely because of the authentic reality that they express of school children’s experience of the trauma, shared with a trusted friend.”

Letter from Masao Ujiye to Joan Gillis, 9 October 1943.

UBC Library is pleased to be able to add this unique acquisition to its robust Japanese Canadian Research collection that includes materials on business and commerce, mining, farming, fishing, forestry, religious activities, education, community, reminiscences and biographies in addition to materials on the Japanese Canadian evacuation.

“These letters provide a unique and important perspective on the Japanese-Canadian internment from the voices of youth,” said Krisztina Laszlo, archivist at Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library. “We’re thrilled that the letters are coming to RBSC and that UBC faculty, students and the community will be able to use them for research and teaching.  It’s a wonderful resource and we’re proud to act as their caretaker.”

The letters, which make up approximately 300-350 pages, can be viewed in person by visiting Rare Book and Special Collections or by booking a tour.


Mary-Lou Florian, one of Canada's most esteemed conservation scientists makes her most recent book available through UBC's Open Collections.


Mary-Lou Florian, Research Associate Emerita at the Royal British Columbia Museum, recipient of the 125th Commemorative Medal from the Governor-General of Canada and UBC alumna has made her new book, Comparative Anatomy of Branches, Roots and Wood of Some North American Dicotyledonous and Coniferous Trees and Woody Shrubs Used in Ethnographic Artifacts: Identification and Conservation Concerns available through UBC’s cIRcle Digital Repository.

After retiring in 1991 from her position as Chief of Conservation Services for the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Florian has devoted her time to research and writing – publishing several books related to the conservation of museum objects. 

Keen to make her research more widely available, Florian approached UBC Library to make her new book available through its Open Collections. “I thank the University of British Columbia cIRcle Digital Repository for accepting my book. I am incredibly pleased the information will be available for anyone interested. An author could not wish anything more,” she said.

A comparative anatomy of tissues that were used historically in making ethnographic and archaeological artifacts, Florian hopes the book will be useful as a lab manual for teaching and reference for research, not only for ethnographic reasons, but also for many aspects of plant anatomy and identification and forestry.

“We are thrilled to provide open access to Mary-Lou’s latest book,” said Amber Saundry, Digital Repository Librarian at UBC Library, “In a short amount of time, we’ve seen strong use and interest in its specialized and unique information from conservators, curators, researchers and educators. We look forward to welcoming her future work to UBC Library via cIRcle and Open Collections“.

There is much excitement in the conservation community about the new-found accessibility of Florian’s research, “This book will be extremely useful for conservators and other collections professionals working with baskets, bark and other ethnographic materials,” says Eric Pourchot, Institutional Advancement Director at the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, “Thank you for making her research available.” 

Anne Lama, UBC’s Library Conservator is thrilled to have access to Florian’s new book, especially after encountering Florian’s research so often during her studies in the restoration of books and paper and preventive conservation at the University Paris-Sorbonne as well as her work at the National Archives in Paris. “I am thrilled she is still publishing and sharing her findings,” said Lama.

Lama expects to use the book often in her work at UBC Library. “I will be able to learn a lot from this research and it will be an excellent reference when making recommendations about the conservations of objects in our collections”.

cIRcle, UBC’s open access digital repository for published and unpublished material produced by the UBC community and its partners was created to showcase and preserve intellectual output, and support teaching, learning, and research activities. Items in cIRcle are presented through UBC Library’s Open Collections, which provides additional features that increase the findability and promotion of research. Items can be found via search engines (such as Google) and have permanent URLs and Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), so they can be discovered, accessed, and preserved long-term for future generations.

Borrow Mary-Lou Florian’s books.

More about Open Access at UBC Library.

Ingrid Parent, UBC’s University Librarian, has become the first Canadian to head the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). This organization has been the global voice of the library and information profession for more than eight decades.

You can find out more by viewing the UBC press release here.

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