Esquimalt Gorge Park: Site of Canada’s First Japanese Garden & Tea House
1907 – 1942
For thirty-five years, the Esquimalt Japanese Tea Garden was a vibrant hub of recreation for Victorians of all backgrounds. The gardens were housed on the property of the B.C. Electric Railway Company on the Gorge, with a Tea House at its centre. The Tea House featured an open dining room with a ‘splendid view’, serving traditional English tea fare. There were three summer houses, a ball game house, a second dining room, and a dance hall. Through the vibrant gardens hung hundreds of Japanese lanterns, and wisteria trellises, cherry trees, and numerous valuable shrubs surrounded the structures, testament to garden architect Isaburo Kishida’s horticultural skill. The Japanese Garden and Tea House was a retreat for all types from the city of Victoria. Victoria locals, in interviews collected by Ann-Lee and Gordon Switzer, remember the garden as the “greatest attraction of the Gorge Park”, a site so popular that it was “visited by tens of thousands of people.”
Investigating the dispossession of Japanese Canadians during the 1940s, the Landscapes of Injustice research project uncovered records revealing the extent to which the Japanese Tea House and Gardens were looted, vandalized, and destroyed. Visiting the property in 1944, an agent from the Office of the Custodian wrote that “the place is just a wreck. Practically everything of value has been removed… The place has been ravaged and wanton destruction has taken place all over the premises.” This ruin of the Japanese Tea Garden was not simply the result of misguided federal policy dispossessing Japanese Canadians. Responsibility for the destruction lay with Esquimalt residents, the neighbours who stole and pillaged, and the local officials who turned a blind-eye.
A Family’s Legacy Lost:
The Esquimalt Japanese Tea Garden was opened in 1907 by Hayato “Harry” Takata and Yoshitaro “Joe” Kishida in 1907; by 1942, Hayato and his brother, Kensuke, ran the business. Joe Kishida brought his father, Isaburo Kishida, from Japan in April 1907 to design what would become the first Japanese garden in Canada. Isaburo would then go on to design the Japanese Garden at the world famous Butchart Gardens for Jennie Butchart and the Japanese Garden at Hatley Castle for Laura Dunsmuir.
Because of the destruction of the garden and Tea House by Victoria and Esquimalt residents, the Takatas lost all remaining value of their property. Due to the pillaging, the Tea Garden structures were deemed fire hazards and ultimately destroyed. After their forced uprooting and dispossession, the Takatas had no home or life to return to in Victoria.
Help commemorate this important landmark by supporting this initiative
The CRD and the Township of Esquimalt have allocated $7 million of the McLoughlin Amenity Funds for capital projects in Waterfront Park Improvements.
Voting for round 2 has now closed.
Visit the Township of Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Amenty Funds page for updates.
Update: March 1, 2019
There is still a long process to go through before any decision is made regarding the Tea House. It won’t be until the Fall of 2019 that a final decision is made. Next steps are:
- In March a shortlist of projects with preliminary costs will be presented to Council; further refinement of projects and cost/benefit analysis will be presented to Council in June
- Shortlisted projects with final detailed budget will be available for Council discussion in the Fall
- Tea House Initiative update and presentation to Esquimalt Council, January 23, 2019
- Mayor Desjardins is very supportive of a commemorative Japanese Tea House but she has only 1 vote on Council. If you have an opportunity please make your support for the Tea House known to Mayor Desjardins and the other council members, particularly if you are an Esquimalt resident. Go to the Esquimal Council email and telephone directory
- Take a minute to view Yasmin Railton’s (Landscape of Injustice) video below: Righting An Historic Wrong: The Esquimalt Japanese Tea Gardens
Acknowledging and rebuilding:
Today, thanks to the McLoughlin Amenity Funds, the Township of Esquimalt has the opportunity to rebuild the Tea House in the Esquimalt Gorge Park. The University of Victoria’s Landscapes of Injustice project endorses the proposal by the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society to acknowledge this shameful history, to rebuild the tea house, and to re-establish a communal institution of significant historical and present value.