Tokiwa, Masaji George

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Tokiwa, Masaji George

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  • Tokiwa, Masaji
  • Tokiwa, George

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Masaji George Tokiwa was born in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, February 5, 1898. He moved to Canada with his brother Tsunesuke Tokiwa (1891-[1971]) in 1917, settling in Ocean Falls, B.C. He worked in the lumber industry there but soon went to Vancouver to receive his Barber License. Around this time Masaji returned to Japan to marry Hiroko (Hiro) Alice Tokiwa (1902-1970), bringing her Canada. Both were from farming families and both had received education, Masaji had completed highschool, Hiro completing middle school. He returned to Ocean Falls where he became a prominent member of the Japanese Canadian community.

At the time, the workers at the sawmill in Ocean Falls were almost all Japanese Canadian single men. The Tokiwa family were one of the first to settle there as a family. Masaji and Hiro had four children: Helen Sachiye Tokiwa (1925-2014), Paul Yoshiharu Tokiwa (1927- 1994), Samuel Mitsuo Tokiwa (1929-2014), and Lily Yasue (nee. Tokiwa) Gibson (1932- ). Though the town was segregated, Masaji was respected by both the Japanese Canadians and the white settlers. He worked as one of the three barbers there. No longer working in the sawmill, many of the men there came to Masaji to discuss their problems. As he interacted with all the men in the mill by cutting their hair, he became a leader figure and helped many of the men out with their problems.

When the province of British Columbia began to forcibly remove Japanese Canadians from the coast, Tokiwa decided to move to Kelowna with his family to work on a farm. The government quickly pushed against this decision and Hiro and the two girls moved to Vancouver to stay with an Aunt, leaving Masaji to work on the farm himself. Previous to the war, both sons had been sent to Japan for education. Masaji was concerned that if they were to stay in Canada, they would not receive adequate education due to discrimination against those of Japanese descent. Masaji and Hiro had planned to eventually retire to Japan, but the war completely upturned this. In Vancouver, Hiro, Helen, and Lily were moved to Hasting Park. From there they then went to live in Tashme, B.C.

The family was told Masaji could rejoin them if they all moved out of the province. With the help of a Minister in Tashme, the Tokiwa’s reunited in Beamsville, O.N. to work on the Prudhomme’s farm in November of 1942. They were one of the first Japanese Canadian families to be sent there. Both Lily and Helen were musically inclined and continued their studies there. Helen practiced the piano and organ at the local Church, and Lily sang in school recitals. Masaji’s leadership and intelligence was quickly perceived and the Prudhomme’s soon moved him to work in their greenhouse instead of the farm fields. Tokiwa was a strong believer in education and began to search for a new home for the family that would have more education opportunities for his eldest, Helen.

In 1948, the family moved to Toronto, O.N. The brothers, who were in Japan during the war, returned to Canada to join the family in 1950. In Toronto, Masaji took up the business of barber again and quickly grew a loyal customer base. Hiro worked in a garment factory along Spadina Ave. for a few years, Lily went into nursing, and Helen began to train at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Even in Toronto, Masaji continued to be a leader for the Japanese Canadian community. He is noted to have been a fantastic speech maker and was an integral member in the creation of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC). He was an elder in the church. The family had converted to Christianity early in their time in B.C., and continued to practice in Toronto, following Rev. Shimizu. After the passing of Masaji in 1978, his son Paul took over his spot on the board of the JCCC.


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Created April 12, 2023 by E Carroll.




Conversation held with daughter and donor, Lily Gibson. April 5, 2023.

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