I had been wanting to highlight this new outdoor public mural that featured cherry blossoms against the backdrop of West Coast Japanese-Canadian and aboriginal history.
The St. James Community Service Society mural was commissioned in 2011 by the City of Vancouver, as part of their new public art works in celebration of the city’s 125th anniversary. The mural is also a dedication to the work of the Society for 50 years in the downtown Eastside for providing emergency shelter services, hospice care, support to seniors and those with mental illness.
This new mural is located at the corner of Powell and Gore Streets, in the area that was Japantown, adjacent to Chinatown. The mural includes a watery image of herring, cedar tree fronds, other sea life and a totem pole.
In this neighbourhood, there are several outdoor art installations within 1 block in all directions, that are touchstones to also aboriginal culture and Chinese- Canadian history.
Fragile Blossoms Frame Grey Shadows in Japanese-Canadian History
Delicate arching branches of pale pink blossoms contrast against the grey flotilla of Japanese-Canadian fishing boats in the mural. During the latter part of the 19th century and up to World War II, the Japanese immigrants were formative in sustaining the fishing and canning industries along the southern coast of British Columbia. However, the dark spot in history was the confiscation of their fishing boats and their possessions by the Canadian government in 1939 and thereafter, with the Japanese Allied bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.
All Japanese-Canadians during World War II, were deemed suspect by the Canadian government as a threat to Canada, even though many of these Canadians had never been to Japan or their family were already settled in Canada for several generations. There was
The businesses in Japantown never fully recovered after WWII. Many of the families lost their possessions, businesses and were nominally compensated by the Canadian government 50 years later in the 1980’s, for a token amount of money.
The mural is also an ethereal bow to the profusion of cherry trees bursting forth every spring, all over Vancouver. Previously I had written a blog post on this wonderful pink herald of spring which began as a gift of cherry trees from the Japanese government.
Cherry Trees Inspire Landscape Design for New Developments
Nowadays, it’s refreshing to see that both the City of Vancouver and some private developers have incorporated new cherry tree plantings into the landscaping and streetscape designs. You can see young trees blooming around the perimeter of a playing field in David Lam Park, by new condominium developments while bicycling from Stanley Park and along streets in Kitsalano and Shaugnessey neighbourhoods, where there are more mature cherry trees.
Pink Blossoms Dance Like Ballet Tutus
Unlike the famed cherry blossoms in Washington DC, or even in Japan, on the northwest British Columbia coast, sometimes delicate cherry trees are thriving beside soaring old growth trees that have stood for several hundred years. Boughs of tissue-thin, cherry blossom branches dance ballet-like in the wind, against rough, mossy wide girth of Douglas firs.
The cherry blossom sprays are like a profusion of many pink ballet tutus shifting, jumping and floating in the spring breeze. It is a happy dance of memory and hope for us when we face the rain showers and sun in the months ahead.
More Interesting Reading (and Photos)
Chong, Jean. Cycling Under Cherry Pink Flowering Bowers. In Cycle Write Blog, Apr. 18, 2010.