January 23rd, 2021

B.C. tree that inspired award-winning author Joy Kogawa damaged by windstorm


By The Canadian Press on January 14, 2021.

The recent windstorm that toppled trees and downed power lines across much of southern B.C. also damaged a cherry tree in Vancouver, shown in a handout photo, that inspired writer Joy Kogawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ksenia Makagonova Mandatory Credit

VANCOUVER – A cherry tree that inspired award-winning Canadian author Joy Kogawa has been damaged in a fierce windstorm that swept across southern British Columbia.

Ann-Marie Metten, executive director of Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, says a huge limb of the aging cherry tree was torn off during the storm on Tuesday night.

The backyard tree is the focus of Kogawa’s children’s book “Naomi’s Tree” which became a symbol of her desire to return home after she and thousands of other Japanese Canadians were interned during the Second World War.

Her acclaimed novel “Obasan” prompted Canada to confront the legacy of persecution suffered by Japanese Canadians and although Kogawa could not return to her first home, supporters saved it from demolition in 2006, turning it into a literary landmark.

Metten says the old cherry tree is diseased and can’t be saved, but that there are already plans to plant a new tree in almost the same location, using a cutting from the original.

She says artists, from carvers to papermakers, are being urged to use the wood to create items suitable for auction to support programs at Kogawa House.

Although the remains of the tree are “somewhat hazardous,” Metten says the city is giving her organization time to decide how to salvage what’s left.

“People care about this tree and they are aware that it’s not going to be easy to take it down,” Metten says in an interview.

The loss of the tree won’t be the end of it, though, she says.

“In 2004, we had taken some grafts from this tree and one was planted at Vancouver City Hall, there is one at a community garden at the local elementary school, I’ve got one on my front boulevard that’s now 15 years old and massive.”

Grafts were also taken from downed branches after the storm, says Metten.

“We can’t have this as a sad story or tragedy, because there have been enough of those,” she says.

“We want to make something out of this.”

Kogawa was six when she and her family were interned and forced to relocate in southern Alberta, where they worked on sugar beet farms.

Her memory of those times inspired “Obasan” in 1981 and the poet and author has since published two other novels, two children’s books and numerous works of poetry and non-fiction.

Kogawa is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and was honoured by the Japanese government in 2010 with the Order of the Rising Sun, marking her contribution toward understanding and preserving Japanese Canadian history.

Metten says the 85-year-old currently lives in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

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