The drive to Kaslo is quite beautiful. Rolling mountains and long, green valleys.
There is not much reason to drive up to this area, as Kaslo is not along the Trans Canada, or any of the popular mountain passes. In fact, it is quite far off of the ‘beaten path’.
We ended up here by chance on one of many ghost town tours.
About 9 hours east of Vancouver, situated deep within mountain ranges, Kaslo has a population of just over 1,000. Its economy is currently based primarily on forestry and tourism.
Originally incorporated in 1893, Kaslo is the oldest community in the Kootenays, and the 7th oldest in BC.
Kaslo was deemed a ‘relocation centre’, but it did not function in the same manner as Greenwood.
Here in Kaslo, new arrivals faced unrelenting, grievous discrimination.
Internees were housed in unsuitable, deplorable conditions. In buildings without amenities, that had long since been abandoned and left to the wild.
The rooms were wet, cold and all but open to the elements when reclaimed. Though they would be ‘cleaned up’, they would not be repaired. The wet and cold would remain.
The first winter of internment was so cold Kootenay Lake froze over – something the enormous body of water rarely does.
Overlooking the lake, Kaslo hotel once lodged ‘Nikkei’ (Canadians of Japanese decent).
THE KASLO HOTEL
Built in 1896, the hotel was considered extravagant for its time. The community – prosperous for its lead, silver and gold mining had boomed to 5000 people.
By the 1920’s resources were running out, mining was in serious decline along with the population, and the hotel fell into serious disrepair.
It sat empty, acquired by the town for non payment of taxes – abandoned for 20 years before being chosen. At one point more than 200 people were being housed in the decrepit structure.
The original hotel burned to the ground in 1950. It was reconstructed and re-opened by 1958.
Now, the hotel offers a free two night stay to anyone previously interned.
The Langham building once boarded 78 Japanese-Canadian internees. In poor condition when they arrived, the building was re-abandoned as soon as the war ended. It now serves as a museum, dedicated to preserving artifacts and stories from this time.
From the Langham building plaque:
Some 21,000 Canadians of Japanese descent, living on the B.C. Coast were stripped of their civil rights, uprooted and interned by the Federal Government. Their properties, businesses and community facilities were confiscated and sold without their consent. While most were later forced to disperse across Canada, some 4,000 were exiled to Japan.
These innocent and loyal Canadians did not pose a threat to national security but were victims of racism and political expediency.
The loss of rights lasted until April 1st, 1949, four years after the war was over, when Japanese Canadians were finally free to return to the coast.
Various “ghost towns” in the B.C. Interior, such as Slocan and Sandon, were selected as interment centres. Approximately 12,000 Japanese Canadians were sent to this area to be confined to hastily constructed, substandard dwellings for the duration of the war.
New Denver and Kaslo also became internment centres. This building, abandoned in 1942, was used to house Japanese Canadians.
May this plaque stand as a memorial to the courage and faith of Japanese Canadians who endured and overcame the injustices of the 1940’s.
August 6, 1988
While most ‘Nikkei’ in Kaslo were held like prisoners and treated less than humanely in deplorable camp conditions, a few specially selected, educated Japanese-Canadians were chosen to work as teachers, nurses and doctors – primarily within the camp confines.
Just three families decided to reside in Kaslo after the war ended. Not long after, only one remained. Aya Higashi once worked as a teacher at the Kaslo internment school in the Giegerich block. She was only 19 at the time.
Aya returned, once the BC Japanese ban had been lifted, and continued teaching in the Kootenay town for four more decades.
Now in her 90’s, Aya is a legend in Kaslo – being the only remaining original ‘Nikkei’ left, and having compassionately taught so many of the small town residents.
From Aya’s story;
Could I leave all this beauty?
This is home. This is where we belong. Our minds were made up: Here we would permanently set our roots. This time we stay in Kaslo BY CHOICE. Kaslo, our Kaslo.
The ghost of the past, at last, had been laid to rest!
Downtown you will find a few stunning, original examples of old west architecture. Village Hall (1898), pictured below, is one of only two intact wooden municipal buildings still in use in Canada.
There is more than just internment history to check out in Kaslo. Plenty of original 1800’s buildings remain standing virtually as they were, some restored – others not.
And Kaslo has some culture, much more than you would expect from a town of one thousand. From bcmag.ca;
On the culture side, Kaslo has music, art, history, good food, and great coffee. The outdoor Jazz Etc. Festival in early August has been drawing crowds for more than a decade. The historic 1896 Langham Cultural Centre features two art galleries and an 80-seat performance theatre.
A simple walk downtown will bring you across a variety of unique structures.
Perhaps most impressive is the sternwheeler SS Moyie, which worked on Kootenay Lake from 1889 until 1957. Upon retirement, she found a permanent home on Front Street in Kaslo.
The SS Moyie was restored by the Kootenay Lake Historical Society, and is the oldest intact sternwheeler in the world. It draws thousands of visitors every year.
With its historic architecture and gorgeous, mountain rimmed lake, Kaslo is quite nice to look at, and I appreciate that attempts are being made to preserve – and honour – the regions varied history.
Additional photos in the slideshow.