The Issei

photograph of family group in summer garden with mother, father and 7 children ranging from toddlers to teens

Yoichi (Harry) and Tsuki Hironaka family, 1936. Back row left to right: Jim, Tsuki, Florence, Yoichi, and Tucker. Front row left to right: Misae, Arthur, Marshall, and Robert.
Galt Museum & Archives 19790275036

Almost 10,000 Canadians were Issei: immigrants from Japan or Japanese settlers from Hawaii. Most Issei were from the land-owning peasant class of Japan.

They had grown up in the rapidly modernizing Meiji period (1868-1912) when Japan was emerging as an industrialized world power, and had come to Canada before the First World War.

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 brought settlers to the Canadian West. Attracted to the open agricultural land, the Issei were participants in the early development of Southern Alberta. By 1901, over 30 Japanese and Chinese were living in Lethbridge. More followed.

Many of the early Japanese pioneers in southern Alberta settled around the communities of Raymond and Hardieville near Lethbridge, and many were from middle-class or well-to-do farming families. In leaving Japan, they promised to bring honour to their family and homeland by making a success of themselves in Canada.

About 3,650 Japanese were nationalized in Canada before 1923, after which Canadian nationality was very difficult for them to obtain. By 1941, the Issei had spent an average of 30 years working in Canada in fishing, farming and agriculture, or building up small businesses. Yet they found it difficult to assimilate into Canadian society because of racial differences. As a result, the Issei created a way of life that was similar to life found in Meiji Japan.

The Idosha, who came during the Second World War evacuation, included Issei and Nisei.