Descendants of Zennosuke Inouye were happy to visit a Surrey park now dedicated to their grandfather, on land not far from where he farmed in the years following “The Great War.”
The Surrey pioneer is remembered at Inouye Park, a 44-acre “natural area park” located at 8985 Queen Mary Blvd., south of the original Inouye farm property, in Cedar Hills. The parkland was previously unnamed, for many years.
Born in Japan in 1884, Inouye moved to Canada in 1900 and later fought for the country in the First World War. After military service he acquired 80 acres of land on Sandell Road (now 128th Street, near 96 Avenue), where he and wife Hatsuno (nee Morikawa) farmed strawberries, raspberries, poultry, potatoes and grain. Zennosuke (pronounced Zen-O-skay) was also president of Surrey Berry Growers’ Co-operative Association.
“Naming the park after the Inouye family helps the City to share this important story, while recognizing the Inouye family’s contributions to the community and to acknowledge the many Surrey residents of Japanese descent who lived here and were forcibly removed by order of the Canadian government,” says a post on the city’s Facebook page.
On May 20, Mayor Doug McCallum, along with councillors Laurie Guerra and Allison Patton, also celebrated the naming of Inouye Park, which “connects the neighbourhood as a central greenway perfect for walking, jogging, or cycling,” according to a description of the park on the city’s website. “Additional heritage features will be added to the park over time.”
Zennosuke and Hatsuno had five children and eight grandchildren. Four of them – Tami Gunn, along with Barry, Rob and Holly Inouye – visited Inouye Park for the first time on May 20.
Barry Inouye did not know his grandfather, as he was born a few years after Zennosuke’s death in 1957.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said of the park naming.
Barry said he didn’t know his grandfather’s story until he read a 2005 essay written by Peter Neary and published in Nikkei Images, the newsletter of the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre Society, based in Burnaby.
During the Second World War, the Canadian government forcibly removed all citizens of Japanese descent away from the B.C. coast.
“The Inouyes were dispersed and interned between Kaslo and Vernon, B.C.” explains a post on surrey.ca. “After the war, Inouye wrote 80 letters to Canadian government officials, demanding the return of his land. He is believed to be the only Japanese Canadian from Surrey to have his land returned.”
This is Zennosuke Inouye, a Surrey pioneer and WWI vet who fought to have his land returned following internment.— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) May 26, 2022
Now, a Cedar Hills park is named for him, on land not far from where he farmed, and where 4 of his grandchildren visited recently.
THE STORY: https://t.co/MlwOB5ao4s pic.twitter.com/LOv5LYB0JV
Today, Zennosuke Inouye is among characters portrayed by The Re-enactors, Surrey’s award-winning heritage re-enactment troupe, in which five historical characters are played by actors at events around the city. The troupe’s other pioneers are Eric Anderson, Mary Jane Shannon, Irene Bourassa and Sarjit “Mac” Singh.
Actor Kevin Takahide Lee plays Inouye, who moved to Vancouver from Hiroshima at age 16.
Lee didn’t know much about Inouye before he took on the role about a decade ago.
“His story is so unique,” Lee said in 2015, “because he was the only Canadian veteran of Japanese descent to have kept his land in the end, and that’s quite phenomenal. The internment and, even more so, the reparation is something that resonates with Japanese-Canadians.”
Barry Inouye, who lives in Vancouver, said his family never talked about the war or internment, “because Japanese people just don’t,” he said.
“So we found out about these things in (the Nikkei Museum newsletter), and it was picked up by Surrey high school students (Paul and Manpreet Gill) for a play that we saw, and we learned even more about our grandfather’s story through that,” Barry recalled.
Last year, while riding his bike in Vancouver, Barry discovered the Masumi Mitsui Greenway, along 59th Avenue from Angus Drive to Argyle Drive.
“It’s another Japanese name and I thought, ‘I wonder who this guy is?,’ Barry said. “I did a Google search and found out he’s also a World War One Japanese-Canadian veteran and was also in Vimy Ridge, and once the war was over he created the first Legion for Japanese-Canadian veterans, and is the one who got Japanese-Canadians to vote in Canadian elections.
“Because of that, I got thinking if the City of Surrey would consider something like that for my grandfather,” Barry continued. “The city already knew my grandfather’s story, I didn’t have to explain that, and I sent an email to Ryan Gallagher (the city’s manager of heritage administration and facilities), and he said they’d consider it. That was last October, and by January, they said a park would be named for him.”
Barry said his older cousin Rob knew Zennosuke and visited the Surrey farm as a child.
“The land was sold after my grandfather passed away, so it’s not something I knew growing up, but I heard about it later on,” Barry noted.
“I’ve been to the grave site in Valley View Cemetery in Surrey, where my grandfather and grandmother are buried, along with my aunts.”
The Inouye story is also told on surreyhistory.ca, which details his military days and the letters he wrote to the Canadian government, starting in 1944, in response to the seizure of his land in Surrey.
Rob Inouye, who was eight when his grandfather died, said his story deserves to reach as many people as possible.
“I remember having fabulous dinners at the farm (my grandmother was a fabulous cook), but I don’t remember my grandfather talking much,” Rob recalled. “He was usually pretty quiet. I don’t think he ever brought up what happened to him during the war, and my grandparents and parents didn’t talk about their experiences during the internment. In Japanese culture, you ‘gaman’ – endure any painful memories instead of talking about them.
“I also remember having to help pick strawberries,” Rob added. “When it came time to pick, all the relatives went out to the farm to help. I didn’t enjoy it, and for a long time never ate strawberries. Thankfully, I eventually learned to like them.”