Bob Muckle is a Capilano University archaeology professor who got an interesting call in 2004 from a retired forester. He had found what appeared to be an old logging camp in the forests of British Columbia, Canada. According to reports from the North Shore News, Muckle took his students there every spring for the next 14 years to help excavate what he believes was a somewhat secret Japanese settlement.
The site of the excavation is about 12 miles northeast of Vancouver on the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. The site is about the size of a football field and they have found some interesting remains. They include a bathhouse, over 12 cabins, a road of cedar planks and what might have been a shrine made out of cedar. Muckle and the students have found over 1000 items so far, including sake and beer bottles from Japan, teapots, game pieces, medicine bottles, clocks, pocket watches, clothing buttons, coins, and hoards of ceramics.
Eikichi Kagetsu is a Japanese businessman who secured the logging rights in the area around 1918 so the settlement was probably made up of the loggers and their families. By 1924, the trees were gone and Kagetsu was still doing business on Vancouver Island. It’s possible that some within the community stayed.
Muckle feels that as many as 50 from the camp stayed to keep free from the racism against the Japanese that was prevalent in Canadian society. That changed in 1942 when the government in Canada started moving Japanese immigrants into internment camps when WWII broke out.
Muckle feels that those in the camp left quickly since they abandoned so many personal and expensive items. “When people leave, usually they take all the good stuff with them,” he told North Shore News. His team also found some items, such as a house key, an Eastman Kodak Bulls-Eye camera and a cookstove someone had hidden. “They were probably smart enough to realize people might loot the site,” he added.
Smithsonian.com reported that Japanese immigrants were discriminated against in Canada as early as 1877, when there was a wave of immigration. Hostility was common and they weren’t permitted to vote, enter the civil service or work in the law profession. After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, the persecution increased. As many as 90% of the Japanese Canadians, including citizens by birth, were displaced while the war was ongoing according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Muckle feels that the village would probably stay as hidden as possible in the forest during that time. “The impression that I get, generally speaking, is it would have been a nice life for these people,” he said. This isn’t out of the ordinary. In the years leading up to the Civil War, many slaves that escaped hid in the swamplands bordering Virginia and North Carolina.
It is possible that the people from the camp may have stayed until the 1940s but there are no records of when they left or where they went. Archaeologists continue to look into the area and if the evidence is there, they are likely to find it. In either case, it will be interesting to find out.