A Buddhist grave site lies at the heart of St. Hilda’s graveyard. The fenced, moss-covered plot contains six headstones, the oldest ones inscribed with Japanese characters, and two unmarked graves. The names of the dead are Jiro Konishi, Hanna Konishi, Naokichi Kawamoto, Toshiko Konishi, Seiji Konishi, Sanji Konishi, Agnes Konishi Hodge and Shoji John Konishi.
Hanna and Jiro “Jim” Konishi immigrated from Japan around 1913, one of the first non-native families in Sechelt. They bore five children and built up a farm on west Porpoise Bay (which was confiscated and sold during the internment of Japanese-Canadians in 1942). Naokichi Kawamoto was a family friend, a fisherman who lived with the Konishis.
Tragedy visited the Konishis around 1922 when their three-year-old daughter Oki died from an accidental scalding and was buried on the homestead of Thomas Cook – grandfather to local historian Helen Dawe and a fast friend of Jiro Konishi. (A Japanese Buddhist priest was brought from Vancouver for the ceremony.) Cook also buried a four-month-old baby, Regnheld Evelyn Davidson, who died at Doriston, a settlement on Sechelt Inlet, in 1923. In 1930 Cook donated the land to the Anglican Church, Dawe wrote, “because he anticipated that the Anglicans would provide adequate care for the cemetery where the two children had already been buried.” The first St. Hilda’s church was built there and dedicated on November 15, 1936.
The Konishi patriarchs, Naokichi Kawamoto died in 1938 and Jiro Konishi died of pneumonia in 1939 shortly after a hurried trip to Japan. Both were buried in the Buddhist part of St. Hilda’s cemetery.
On Feb. 26, 1942, in a wartime action, the Canadian government ordered the removal of “all persons of Japanese racial origin” from the coast of BC. The Konishis, together with thousands of other internees, were moved to the Hastings Park stockyards in Vancouver and eventually to an internment camp in the BC Interior. The family never resettled in Sechelt after the war, although the ashes of both Seiji (who drowned in the Fraser River in 1946) and Hanna were returned to Sechelt for burial.
The last surviving member of the second generation, Sanji Konishi, died in 1994 at the age of 76. Only Shoji and Sanji were still alive in 1988 when the Canadian government formally apologized and paid $21,000 to each living Japanese evacuee.
This is an abridged version of a longer story by Nancy Moote. The original can be found online at sthilda.ca/about/historic-cemetery