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Japanese Settlement Found in Forests of British Columbia (smithsonianmag.com)
182 points by curtis 44 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

I live on this mountain. These are not settlements. These are logging camps or seasonal work camps. My grandfather worked up there and he was jealous of the Japanese for their beautiful shacks when the Norwegians were in canvas tents. Of course, he admitted that the Japanese just worked harder to make their own quarters.

There were orchards, livestock, farms of potatoes, onions and legumes, but most of the activity was in hauling out doug fir to tidewater with oxen or steam donkeys or building miles-long flumes to shoot WRC shinglebolts down to the river or Burrard Inlet.

The article noted the following:

> But it is the third site, which seems to have transitioned from a logging camp to a thriving village, that fascinates [the archaeology professor] the most.

Must be a real privilege for your grandfather to share that bit of vivid history with you. My grandfather would have been a young adult during WW2, and the small island that both he and I grew up on has a deep history with the Japanese which had a direct impact on its indigenous population; he supposedly spoke fluent Japanese as a consequence, along with Korean (by birth), the indigenous language (married a local), and eventually English (after American occupation). Unfortunately, he was unable to speak coherently by the time I was in my late teens and old enough to be interested, so the only history lessons I've gotten of the time were second hand, passed down from the stories he told my father.

If you don't mind sharing, would you say which island? A few months ago I read Lisa See's novel set on Jeju Island, and it's an amazing (and very moving) look at a history I didn't know anything at all about: http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-island-of-sea-women/

I didn’t expect to see a reference to Jeju island in the wild so soon after reading White Chrysanthemum about a comfort woman from Jeju Island.


doug fir: a tall, slender conifer with soft foliage and, in mature trees, deeply fissured bark. It is widely planted as a timber tree.

tidewater: an area that is affected by tides, especially eastern Virginia.

flume: a human-made channel for water in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain, in contrast to a trench or ditch

WRC shinglebolts: [Hand-sized chunks of wood] relatively small cubes of Western Redcedar which are later processed into redcedar roof shingles.

> There were orchards, livestock, farms of potatoes, onions and legumes

And presumably there were non-loggers living there tending to these things. So by what definition is this not a settlement?

Generally, if the site was temporary or seasonal-use only. Such 20th century sites are relatively common here in BC.

Is it not possible some maintained a year round presence there, especially given apparently Japanese were not well seen in other parts of Canada?

*settlement from the 20th century

That is a good context to have. When I saw the title, I thought they discovered signs of Japanese settlement, similar to the Vikings settlements on the opposite side of the continent.

That was a separate news story from a couple weeks ago. "Late Upper Paleolithic occupation at Cooper’s Ferry, Idaho, USA, ~16,000 years ago" "The stemmed projectile points closely resemble those found in Upper Paleolithic Japan, also supporting the hypothesis of a coastal route."


Same. Time saved I guess

Still interesting story!

I'm a bit naive as to how large countries like Canada monitor their space, but is it possible there are unknown long-term (multi generational) "settlements" separate and unknown to the rest of the world still out in the middle of nowhere in Canada? Feels like a good subject for a novel :-)

I've driven and hiked around the Canadian bush quite a bit. It is hard to explain how incredibly large the area is in terms that makes sense if you haven't been there. It isn't uncommon to spend days without seeing another person. It's so quiet the only sounds you hear are the wind (if there is wind), animals and your own heartbeat.

It's also beautiful and brutal at the same time, a single mistake and you're done for so make sure that you know everything there is to know about first aid and keep your gear in very good order. If you bring a vehicle also bring plenty of fuel and tools (and it helps if you know how to use them).

In the words of an 18th century map maker, the North of Canada (Quebec, Ontario) is 'immense forests', in the West you have the Canadian portion of the Rocky Mountains and then there are the territories. You can spend a lifetime there and never see the same thing twice.

I remember having a flight from LHR to Calgary and was lucky enough to be in a window seat and for it to be daylight and clear - only time I've seen Greenland! What I was prepared for was how big, flat and pretty much featureless that part of Canada is just his awesome patchwork of lakes, streams and the occasional esker.

Only thing that has been similar was flying north from Kenya to Egypt and being similarly amazed at how vast the Sahara is.

Oh man. I was flying ATL to LHR a couple years ago and went went over the southern tip of Greenland. My initial reaction was that of wonder and amazement, followed by a hint of unsettling terror at the vast emptiness of the landscape.

My wife and I watched this movie https://www.amazon.com/Arctic-Mads-Mikkelsen/dp/B07N42LPH9/r... on Amazon Prime and it's full of the "unsettling terror at the vast emptiness of the landscape" you mention.

I was amazed at the transition from the coast, where it is mountains and some glaciers to further inland where there are nunataks to nothing but ice. Then the reverse at the other side.

I spend a lot of time in the mountains of Scotland so I couldn't help thinking "so that's the Highlands looked like 12,000 years ago" to it all.

For those who'd like some context, I'll reccomend the YouTuber John Zahorian, and his "Great Divide Trail" hike. Gives some sense of the wildness of a small portion of the country.

We just discovered of what might be the largest cave in Canada just last year: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/new-cave-bc-...

There's a lot of surface that are covered by glaciers or forest and not visible from the sky.

>It is hard to explain how incredibly large the area is in terms that makes sense if you haven't been there.

"30 times the area of Norway" usually gives a good first impression.

It is possible in British Columbia, which is both vast and relatively easy to survive in. Entirely believable if you've been in that part of the world. It is also largely unexplored due to the remoteness and impenetrable terrain. My parents used to live in a village in the southernmost part of the Inside Passage[0] near the British Columbia coast. It was well-known among the locals of small groups of people (usually a few families) that would intentionally disappear into the uninhabited parts of the region to live off the grid. Not too frequent, something like once every decade or so. For most people, moving to a remote village with irregular postal service in the Inside Passage is sufficient to satisfy their desire to drop off the planet but a few take it a step further.

The location of a few such settlements were known to the locals, because they had been spotted by hunters or fisherman due to being in relatively close proximity to villages in the inside passage. Others groups disappeared much deeper into the fjords and into the mainland, usually after buying supplies in Ketchikan, and were never seen or heard from again. Anecdotal but interesting.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_Passage

I live in the Yukon, and have done plenty of 10 day canoe trips while out moose hunting. Not only do you not see a single person, you don't see evidence of humans. No roads, no power lines, no fire rings.

Absolutely nothing, and we're relatively close to civilization (i.e. we put in off a road and take out off a road.)

Start hiking and you could easily go thousands of kms without evidence of people. (except the hiking would be almost impossible)

A lot of Canada is functionally empty, but it's all well surveyed by the government as well as the companies extracting natural resources.

It's extremely unlikely that there'd be any unknown settlement of any permanence or size.

Especially at 14km distance to North Vancouver, as the settlement in the article apparently was.

Here's the thing: this settlement is remarkably near Vancouver. Like a 20 min drive from downtown, maybe 20km total distance. This isn't some remote part of the province, this is literally in Vancouver's backyard.

It would depend on what "unknown" means. "Unknown" in the sense that they are not on official maps and that Ottawa is unaware? Probably. "Unknown" in the sense that their local neighboring communities are unaware? Unlikely.

I speculate that it is possible, but unlikely. Settlements need to be near a resource of some sort. Forest, lake, ocean, large mammal population, mineral deposit, strategic vantage point... or similar. Something that can sustain livelihoods. I would expect the resources of the far north to have been fairly well documented. There may be large empty spaces that attract almost no attention, but I would guess they would never attract a settlement either.

The northern part of Canada before you get into the tundra is one massive contiguous forest 1/3 the size of the United States. It's filled with lakes, streams, rivers, and game - but almost no people. You could easily have small groups of people live there for decades without being discovered. It's so wild that there are places where the wolves have not learned to fear humans.

See a map here (PDF): https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/cfs/asse...

That's even just the Boreal forest. There's even more to it: https://www.sfmcanada.org/images/Forest_Types_EN.pdf

The areas around the cities are dotted with farmland, but it is not difficult to find some kind of a forest nearby. Even Vancouver has a fairly dense forest downtown in Stanley Park. It's possible to wander into it and (sometimes, maybe not during peak tourist season) not encounter anyone

I got lost in the forest in the mountains in North Vancouver a month ago. It's surprisingly rough terrain and there were very few people. Google maps and GPS was how I managed to find the trail again.

People do die in there ever so often, especially if they get over a ridge and can no longer count on "heading downhill will take me outta here". Lots of cliffs and other hazards to deal with. It's wilderness for hundreds of kilometers...

Sorry but Stanley Park is not a forest.

It's funny seeing that "forest" - apparently I grew up in it, but I grew up surrounded by farm land. There's even cities in it. I mean, yes, there's lots of land up there you could conceivably hide in, but it's kind of miserable, with bitterly cold winters. I don't know why anyone would want to.

That's a cool map, I don't think I've ever seen it laid out fully like that. Any idea why the boreal forests extend so far north in the NWT/Yukon/Alaska but not in Nunavut?

Probably equal parts map protection distorting things as you get nearer to the poles and the effect of the ocean moderating the climate in Alaska.

Practically no humans ever live completely isolated. If you do, you are either dirt poor and an inch away from being wiped out by some misfortune or another, or you are burning through the resources you brought along before you were isolated.

There was a movie "Last of the Dogmen" based on this premise. Can't remember if it was any good. Starred Tom Berenger.

They have these all over the western US as well. Mostly Chinese though I think. Back from mining, logging, and rail building times. Many are for the most part undocumented or barely documented with short footnotes in texts from the time. I was thinking how cool it would be to bring a metal detector to one of the spots since they've been for the most part untouched.

Early 20th century settlement found 14 years ago and excavated for the past 14 yrs.

I had no idea that Canada had a Japanese relocation/internment program during WWII. I only knew of the one here in the US.

It became much more common knowledge after the Canadian government issued an official apology [1]. I recall seeing a documentary about it[2].

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Canadia...

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8TQTuMqM9g

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