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Why a Japanese Delicacy Grows Near Old British Columbia Internment Camps

As the US did, Canada also forced people of Japanese ancestry away from the west coast and put them in internment camps during World War II. These camps were isolated in the forests of British Columbia, where supply lines were few and unreliable, and the food rations were meager. Inmates in the know turned to a reliable plant called fuki, or Japanese butterbur. It wasn't easy to get, but once established, it's hard to kill.    

During the Second World War, it became crucial: In 1942, racist federal policies dispossessed thousands of Japanese Canadians of their homes, boats, and property and forced them into remote internment camps. Fuki seeds and roots were one of the few items sympathetic—and usually white—former neighbors could mail or deliver to the camps without government interception.

“A lot of [interned] Japanese Canadians wrote back to their [former] white neighbors and asked them: ‘Would you do us a huge favor and send fuki roots or fuki seeds?’ And neighbors or friends would [then] either drive up or ship out the fuki seeds,” says Ryan Ellan, curator at the Tashme Museum in Sunshine Valley, roughly 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) southeast of Hope, B.C., at the site of the former Tashme Internment Camp.

Almost 80 years later, the camps have crumbled, but fuki remains -and still grows as a testament to the history of the camps. The existence of the plant led to the founding of the Tashme Museum. Read that story at Atlas Obscura.


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