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Japanese-Canadian pioneers of West Kootenay: Yodo Fujii

Updated: May 2, 2022

Long before Japanese Canadians were interned in the West Kootenay during the Second World War, a small number already lived here. They worked in forestry and ran restaurants and laundries. One such pioneer was Yodo Fujii (or Fugii, or Fuji).

We don’t know much about him, but on July 11, 1903 the Revelstoke Kootenay Mail announced: “Messrs. Fujii & Ito have taken over the restaurant business formerly conducted by Mrs. Blake and hold their opening today. It will be known as the Owl restaurant and will be open for business day or night.”

The ad below appeared in the Mail in July and August 1903:

Nothing is known about Mr. Ito, but the partnership was short lived: by December, ads indicated Fujii was the sole proprietor. Those ads continued to run through August 1904, although the restaurant was damaged in a May 1904 fire that broke out in the Gavin home on First Street between Mackenzie and Orton avenues. While three Gavin children were saved, five-year-old Gladys died.

The Revelstoke Herald reported: “Several of the laddies who were stationed on the roof of Mrs. Blake’s building, the lower part of which was occupied by Yodo Fujii, stood bravely at their posts, their faces and hands bearing silent witness to the scorching heat they were subject to.” Fujii suffered a $250 loss to his furniture and effects, but carried insurance of $500.

Then from January 1905 to February 1906, a new ad appeared in the Mail:

Fujii is nowhere to be found on the 1901, 1911, or 1921 census or in the Revelstoke civic directories for 1903, 1904, 1905, or 1910 (the intervening years are either unavailable or don’t exist). Nor was there a listing for the Owl restaurant.

A BC Archives index indicates that in 1906, Fujii sued one Theo J. Wadman in Revelstoke county court, but it’s not immediately apparent what the case was about. (Wadman, a fire warden and the local returning officer in the 1909 provincial election, faced several other lawsuits in 1905-06.)

In 1910 or 1911, Fujii bought two lots in Slocan City from George Motosawa, who I have profiled separately. 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. Fujii’s address was then given as Nelson. The lots were included in a tax sale and reverted to the city in 1913.

The Victoria Daily Colonist of April 11, 1919 carried a story about how “Y. Fugii, the Japanese logger” was suing the captain of a cargo ship for losing half a load of shingle bolts. But I don’t know if it was him.

Fujii’s trail goes cold after that, but it’s possible he headed to England. In 1932, a newspaper report on London’s Chinese restaurants looked at a recently opened place on Buckingham Street called the Chop Suey, “presided over by Mr. Y. Fugii … [I]t is unique, in that it is half Chinese and half Japanese.”

Each table came with a small gas burner, so patrons could cook their own meals: “[A] visit to Mr. Fugii’s restaurant affords the novice a very good and free lesson in Chinese and Japanese cooking.”

Blogger Paul French writes that the restaurant appears to have been destroyed during the Blitz.

Yodo Fujii does not appear in the BC vital events index under any spelling, but another noteworthy thing pops up: Sohahi Fugii, 28, married Sadie Funston, 21, on Sept. 12, 1910 in Vancouver — a rare interracial marriage for the time. He was a Japanese-born contractor, the son of Tomi Goro and Ruku Fugii, and a Shintoist. She was born in Osage, Iowa, the daughter of James and Bessie Funston, and a Roman Catholic. I have no idea what happened to them. They don’t appear on the 1911 census, and other than the marriage registration (seen below), turns up a complete blank.

Updated on May 1, 2022 to add the parts about the Chop Suey restaurant in London.

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