BCHF News Maple Ridge Museum obtains dedication scroll for Fraser Valley Buddhist Church

Maple Ridge Museum obtains dedication scroll for Fraser Valley Buddhist Church

The Fraser Valley Buddhist Church building on Dewdney Trunk Road in Maple Ridge, BC, once served as a centre for worship and social activity for the Japanese-Canadian community living in the town of Hammond in the 1920s and 1930s.1 The building’s current owners recently donated a dedication scroll from the original Buddhist Church to the Maple Ridge Museum (by way of the Nikkei National Museum). Gina Leigh of the Maple Ridge Museum Family History Group helped facilitate the donation of this important artifact. Gina shares the story of the church and the dedication scroll below.

History of the Fraser Valley Buddhist Church

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were once home to a large, vibrant Japanese population. Japanese immigration to Canada increased greatly in the first 15 to 20 years of the 1900s. By the time the 1921 Census of Canada was taken many second-generation children of Japanese descent had been born in Canada and were considered Canadians.2 Japanese Canadians settled, raised families and, amongst other occupations, contributed significantly to farming in the Maple Ridge area – old timers especially remembered the strawberry farms, and the title of “berry capital.”

Fraser Valley Buddhist Church. Photo courtesy of Maple Ridge Museum and Archives Collection, P00978.
Fraser Valley Buddhist Church. Photo courtesy of Maple Ridge Museum and Archives Collection, P00978.

The religion practised by most Japanese was Buddhism. The Japanese Canadians were no different from other ethnic groups in having a centre for worship, activities and socializing. That site, located at 21525 Dewdney Trunk Road, was from 1918 to 1930 home to the first Nokai Hall, Buddhist Church, Japanese Language School and meeting hall for the Hammond community of Japanese Canadians. The land was donated by Sansuke Kawamoto whose home was nearby on 216th Street. The community had grown, so when the building burned down in 1930, residents built the Nokai Hall on a different site and built the Fraser Valley Buddhist Church on the site of the original building.

In 1942 the federal government enacted legislation which resulted in Japanese Canadians being interned and their property confiscated. The Fraser Valley Buddhist Church was among the many properties entrusted to the Custodian of Enemy Property and later sold.

The church building was home to Houston’s Pub at one time although it has been vacant for a number of years. Plans to renovate the building were stopped because of the scope of the work required to complete. The Office Liquor Store is currently in the building attached to the front of the church.

Facilitating donation of the church dedication scroll

A work colleague of a friend of mine was shown a number of artifacts relating to the church when he met with a representative of The Office Liquor Store. When my friend told me about this “find,” I was immediately interested; however, some time passed before I was able to follow up.

Recently my friend was able to connect me with Colleen Beattie of Mission Springs LRS Group, a representative of the current owners of the building. On March 20, 2017, I met with Colleen about the artifacts in question. I invited Linda Kawamoto Reid, Research Archivist at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby, to join me. I wanted to involve the Nikkei National Museum, which has a mandate to collect and preserve artifacts and history relating to Japanese Canadians in BC and the rest of Canada. Linda has a personal interest in the Fraser Valley Buddhist Church because her grandfather, Sansuke Kawamoto, was the person who donated the land in 1918. This building also seems to be the only trace of the Hammond farming community that once contributed greatly to the Canadian economy.

The dedication scroll as originally received. The letter “A” is unrelated to the scroll but had fallen behind the broken glass and hadn't been removed at the time the photo was taken. Photo: Gina Leigh.
The dedication scroll as originally received. The letter “A” is unrelated to the scroll but had fallen behind the broken glass and hadn’t been removed at the time of this photo. Photo: Gina Leigh.

Colleen produced for us a scroll of paper with Japanese calligraphy, about 4 feet tall by 2.5 feet wide, glued to a piece of foam core in a metal frame with broken glass. Two pieces of paper written in English were glued to the scroll. Based on the contents of the scroll, it is a dedication document relating to the construction/opening of the Church and would have hung in the Church, together with a blessing.

Colleen generously donated the scroll to the Nikkei Museum. The Nikkei Museum has since given the scroll to the Maple Ridge Museum because of its relevance to local history.

Unfortunately, at the time of our visit Colleen had been unable to locate any of the other artifacts which existed at one time. Colleen assured us that she will keep an eye open for anything that may turn up in future.

 

Heritage designation of the Church building

Given that 2017 is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese Internment, Linda Kawamoto Reid of the Nikkei Museum is taking part in many commemorative events, including making a successful nomination to Heritage BC to designate the Fraser Valley Buddhist Church as a site of historic significance to Japanese Canadian history in BC. The church may also be included on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

Gina Leigh is a member of the Maple Ridge Museum Family History Group. She would like to extend thanks to Linda Kawamoto Reid of the Nikkei National Museum for the information about the early days of the Nokai Hall and Fraser Valley Buddhist Church. Gina’s story was first published in the Maple Ridge Museum Family History Newsletter, April 2017 edition. 

References/Sources

  1. Hammond, also called Port Hammond, is a community on the Fraser River within the municipality of Maple Ridge, near its border with the City of Pitt Meadows and just east of the Golden Ears Bridge.
  2. 1921 Census of Canada, British Columbia, Fraser Valley, Dewdney, accessed on ancestry.ca.

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