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Japanese-Canadian pioneers of West Kootenay: George Motosawa

Updated: Mar 3, 2018

George Motosawa was a restaurateur and laundry owner in two West Kootenay ghost towns. We know he was born April 6, 1867 and immigrated to Canada in 1888. He shows up in our neck of the woods in 1898 at Brooklyn, a railway boom town on Lower Arrow Lake, operating the Mikado Laundry. This is the first ad from the Brooklyn News of Aug. 13, 1898.

By mid-October he switched gears and took over the Queen Restaurant:

In the 1898 civic directory, he was listed as proprietor of the Mikado Laundry, but he was not listed in 1899, nor was the restaurant or laundry. There was also a Mikado Laundry on Delaney Ave. in Slocan City. Although it’s not clear if Motosawa was its proprietor, he did own property in Slocan (more on that in a moment). The laundry was out of business by early 1902 when Alex Rogers bought the building with plans to turn it into a barber shop.

The 1901 census found Motosawa operating a laundry in Sandon and employing three other young Japanese men: Joseph Hashimoto, Thomas Nakashima and Inoye Koiga (spellings are best guesses of the enumerator’s handwriting). We know his laundry was called the Reco because of a handwritten receipt dated Dec. 31, 1901 with Motosawa’s name on it (pictured below). It was among a batch of tattered Sandon-related papers Lou Coletti had for sale last year at his Nelson antique store (they have since sold).

Frank Hartrenger established the original Reco laundry at the west end of Reco Avenue in June 1897, but it burned in the great fire of 1900. It was then rebuilt in Sandon’s red light district. Its purchase by Motosawa and another man was noted by the Sandon Paystreak of April 13, 1901 using racist language. The paper harrumphed: “Unless some timely action is taken by the powers that be, this team will be the advance guard of a more extensive immigration.”

By 1902, Motosawa purchased a couple of lots in Slocan City. (His name was sometimes spelled Motogawa or Motozawa on the tax ledgers.) These were Lots 4 and 5 in Block 36 on Main Street, behind the present W.E. Graham school. One was vacant and the other had a modest house on it. His address was listed in the ledgers as Sandon in 1902 and 1903, but in the latter year it was crossed out and replaced with a Revelstoke post office box number. He was in Revelstoke through 1907, but not listed in the civic directories there. No address was given in the ledgers in 1908 or 1909, but in 1910 he was in Vancouver. Either that year or next he sold his Slocan lots to Yodo Fujii (who I have profiled separately).

Motosawa’s fate after 1910 is unknown. He doesn’t show up on the 1911 census or in the BC vital events index. He does, however, get a passing mention in Garnet Basque’s Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of the Boundary Country for his business activities in Brooklyn.

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