Maritime Museum honours difficult past

Marlene Howell

Artist Marlene Howell displays her feature painting entitled Under New Ownership, which is featured in The Lost Fleet exhibit at the Maritime Museum of B.C. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer –

A new exhibit commemorating one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history opened earlier this month at Victoria’s Maritime Museum of B.C.

The Lost Fleet exhibit sheds light on the wave of hysteria and anti-Japanese sentiment that swept the west coast of North America following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It included the seizure of approximately 1,200 Japanese-Canadian owned fishing boats on the Pacific Coast. The vessels were confiscated by members of the Royal Canadian Navy Reserves and other government agencies, and eventually sold off to canneries and other non-Japanese fishermen.

As part of the Government of Canada’s War Measures Act, approximately 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were deemed a threat to national security and were abruptly arrested. Most were separated from their families and forced into internment camps across B.C. and the rest of Canada in early 1942.

The exhibit uses a combination of archival photographs, newspaper articles, government posters, infographics, and art work to showcase the history.

A Series For Contemplation consists of four paintings created specifically for the exhibit by Langford Artist-In-Residence Marlene Howell.  
Howell, a Toronto-born Japanese-Canadian, is excited to be part of the exhibit because researching and painting about the fleet has been an educational process. Her grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1916 but they never spoke of the war years or what the family had endured. 

“They didn’t talk about the war, so I really don’t know very much about what happened during the internment on a personal level,” said Howell. “That is why I was so intrigued with taking part in The Lost Fleet, and when I received an e-mail inviting me to be the Artist in Residence, I immediately accepted as it was a great honour.

Howell was contacted by the museum on June 29 and worked until mid-November taking her inspiration from national archive photos to come up with her paintings.

Her feature painting entitled Under New Ownership depicts the seizure of a boat named Kuroshima No. 2. She says the acrylic painting “impacted me the most” and is being used as the feature piece for the show. She learned recently that the Kuroshima No. 2 belonged to the father of one her Aunt’s friend. The discovery was made when David Nishioka was looking through the greeting cards depicting the paintings from the show.

“The coincidence is bizarre,” said Howell, wife of Major (Retired) Bob Howell.

The exhibit is on display until March 31. The rest of the exhibit is on loan from the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Duncan McLeod, Curator of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, says The Lost Fleet takes a closer look at the deep-seated racism Asian-Canadians experienced during the period. 

“We are honoured to share this important part of our history and the exhibition has allowed the museum to connect with the audience through working with the Japanese-Canadian community,” said McLeod. “It also provides a context to present a discussion of prejudice against minorities in a modern Canadian context.”

On the evening of Jan. 24 the museum will hold a launch event featuring three speakers: The Nature of Things host Dr. David Suzuki; Project Director of Landscapes of Injustice, University of Victoria Associate Professor Dr. Jordan Stranger Ross; and Landscapes of Injustice Project Manager Michael Abe.

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