From an arranged marriage in her native Japan to immigrating to Canada and then being interned during the Second World War, it’s fair to say Steveston’s Shizuko Nishi had a few stories to tell on her 103rd birthday last week.
In fact, according to Japanese tradition, Nishi should actually be 104, as her country of birth considers the birth year as being age one already.
Last week, she marked the amazing milestone with a family gathering and celebration at her current home in Fraserview Seniors’ Residence on Williams Road, where she has lived since March, 2017.
It all began for Nishi on June 10, when she was born in Tanoura Village, Wakayama in Japan to Uwaguzu (father) and Sono (mother).
Later in life, she married Hiroshi Nishi, (a Canadian by birth) on April 25, 1937 in Wakayama “through an arrangement,” according to her family.
She then left for Canada on Oct. 18, 1937 on board the Heian Maru from Yokohama, Japan, arriving in Vancouver just over a month later.
Nishi’s first home in Canada was actually in Steveston, living with her in-laws until March 1942 when Japanese-Canadians were then interned because of Pearl Harbor.
Shizuko and Hiroshi and their two children, Itoko and Joe, were interned at Picture Bute, AB where they set up residency and eventually made Taber, AB, as their home.
Two more children, two boys, Albert and Henry, were born in Alberta.
Her life in internment centered on raising the family and working in the sugar beet field spring to late fall, where she would be thinning, weeding, cultivating and harvesting sugar beets all “by hand”.
Her husband worked in Rocky Mountain House clearing the trees to augment the family income.
It wasn’t until the cold winter of 1949 that the family returned to their rightful home in Steveston, one of the first interned Japanese families to do so and resume their livelihood in fishing.
They purchased a home at 537 Moncton St., where they lived until 1961, subsequently moving a few doors away.
Shizuko was one the earlier cannery workers at BC Packers Cannery, cleaning, filleting and packing sockeye canning tins, where her hourly wage was then a mere 80 cents an hour.
She also became known in the village in the ‘70s for driving a blue Volvo.
Away from work and family, Shizuko was an active Fujinkai member (Women's Federation) of the Steveston Buddhist Temple, serving as a treasurer in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.