Updated: Jan 28, 2021
The watercolour seen here shows the upper portion of Sandon in 1944, during the Japanese-Canadian internment.
The painting was the work of Fred Brigden (1871-1956), an artist from Toronto who was fairly prominent in his lifetime. He traveled across the country in search of inspiring scenery. The Sandon painting was apparently one in a series he made on the same trip of “scenic views of West Kootenay’s matchless lakes and mountains.”
Those paintings, including the Sandon streetscape, were exhibited at the University of Toronto’s Hart House gallery and earned a mention in The New Canadian, a Japanese-Canadian newspaper, on Nov. 18, 1944:
Mr. Brigden with his easel and big umbrella was much in evidence in Kaslo and New Denver last summer. One of the more interesting paintings is a street scene from Sandon, in which the artist has attempted to portray a number of Japanese … men, women, and children.
Brigden returned to the Kootenay the following year. The Lethbridge Herald interviewed him for a story that appeared on Sept. 8, 1945 while he was en route from Toronto to Waterton Lakes Park:
Now 73 and in good health “except for a touch of arthritis” which makes a cane necessary, Mr. Brigden still shows the activity that has taken him across Canada several times as far as eastern BC to settle briefly in picturesque districts for rapid sketches of eye-filling views. Besides spending considerable periods in the northwest mountain area of the US, he has visited various parts of the Kootenays and the Okanagan Valley on painting tours. This summer found him again at Kaslo and Kootenay.
A cropped version of the Sandon painting appeared on the wraparound dust jacket of Toyo Takata’s 1983 book Nikkei Legacy. The photo credit explained that the original then belonged to the Toronto YMCA — which makes sense, since Brigden was heavily involved with the YMCA. I asked if they still have it, but was told that while they have other Brigden works, this one is no longer among them. Its present whereabouts is unknown.
When historian Patricia Roy reviewed the book in 1984, she observed that “Dust jackets can attract readers; they can also mislead them. Fred Brigden’s charming 1944 watercolour of the children of Sandon, BC catches the browser’s eye but erroneously suggests that Nikkei Legacy is only a children’s story about the Japanese evacuees during the Second World War.” (In fact, the book is a brief but comprehensive account of Japanese Canadians in Canada.)
Amazingly, at least two people who were present when the painting was created are still with us. The boy featured prominently in the foreground is reportedly Isamu (Sam) Eto, who now lives in Elliot Lake, Ontario. He had never seen the painting until recently, so he couldn’t swear that it’s him.
But his cousin Rosina Eto is sure that it is — and so is his childhood friend Rudy Boates, now of Trail, who was also there that day. In fact, Rudy says, “I was standing right behind [Sammy] when [Brigden] painted the picture. I wanted to get in it myself but [Brigden] told me to move. I watched him paint.”
Rudy, one of the few remaining people who were born in Sandon, says he first saw a copy of the painting perhaps 20 years ago after his brother Lorne stumbled across it in a museum or gallery in Toronto (Rudy’s not sure which one; Lorne died in 2018). I don’t know what Brigden called the painting, but the museum had it titled “A Typical Japanese Village.” Lorne had a hard time convincing the curators it was actually Sandon.
But the neatest thing? Rudy and Sam spoke on the phone last week for the first time in 76 years.
Rudy has created the following key for us, while Sam provided some wonderful photos of his family in Sandon which can be viewed at bottom.
1) Sam Eto
2) Japanese bath house, heated by a wood stove inserted into a wooden tub
3) Eto house (Formerly the Tattrie house, this became the Tin Cup Cafe, which burned down in 2008)
4) Handmade picket fence of the Boates home (also known as the Dr. Gomm home, burned down 2008)
5) Eugene Peterson (his house is still standing)
6) Storage shed for fire reel and hose (still standing, and often photographed for the many bits of metal now attached to it)
7) Former cow barn
8) Lindsay Carter home
9) Jack (Mopie) McLeod home
10) McLanders home
Alma Harris, who was married to Sandon founder John Morgan Harris, had a black and white print of this painting, pictured below. It was part of a cache of Sandon memorabilia that someone offered for sale on eBay in 2001, but it did not meet the reserve price and failed to sell. I don’t know where it is now.
Below are the photos Sam Eto shared. The first one shows what appears as the right half of the painting, including the McLanders, Eto, and Boates homes at far right.
Here is the view from the balcony of the Tattrie home, looking the opposite direction, showing the Gene Petersen house and shed at far right.
Below, Sam Eto and his siblings Hannah, Ben, and Archie in Sandon.
Below, Sam Eto’s parents, Banjiro and Tsurue, in Sandon.
Below, Banjiro Eto, on right, working on building a house at Sandon.
Below, Tsurue and Archie Eto at Sandon.
Below, Hannah Eto and friend Keiko.
Below, Sam’s cousin Shigeko Eto (left) and aunt Jean at Sandon, with the Kootenay Hotel in the background.
Updated Jan. 25, 2021 to note the painting is no longer in the custody of the Toronto YMCA.