Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, National Historic Site
Founded in 1906 and expanding to this Art Deco building in 1928, this educational institution was the first and largest Japanese language school in Canada before the Second World War. In 1919, it became a second language school, where children attended language classes after regular public school from Monday to Friday. Designed by Sharp and Thompson Architects, this building was planned and built by the community in 1928 at a cost of $40,000 to expand the organization’s role to also serve as a community centre – ‘Japanese Hall’.
After Canada declared war on Japan in 1941, the federal government forcibly relocated over 22,000 Japanese Canadians to a minimum of 100 miles away from the coast to Internment camps in the interior of BC. Seizing their homes, properties and businesses, the government also closed all 50 existing Japanese language schools in B.C., including this school, which had over 1000 students at the time. Throughout the Internment period, which ended in 1949 community leaders fought to prevent the sale of this building, reclaimed ownership in 1952 and reopened the school in 1953.
The Hall was one of the only properties returned to Japanese Canadians after the war, and remains a powerful symbol of community resilience. In 2012, a heritage rehabilitation was completed and Children’s World Childcare Centre was launched. In 2019, the building was designated a National Historic Site. It continues to serve as an education and community hub for Japanese Canadian history, language, culture, childcare and the local community.
Located on the corner of Alexander Street and Jackson Avenue, adjacent to the Historic Powell Street Corridor and Gastown, it is located on a City of Vancouver bike route.
Vancouver’s Japanese-Canadian community commissioned and built this Art Deco structure in 1928 to house a language school dating back to 1906, and the building quickly became a community hub. However, after Canada went to war with Japan in 1941, the federal government interned more than 22,000 Japanese-Canadians and expropriated their properties. After the Second World War, this building was one of the few returned to the Japanese-Canadian community, and it reopened as a school in 1953. It continues to offer language and cultural classes, and is home to a library of more than 40,000 Japanese books (don’t miss the great collection of anime).