Queen's Gave Japanese Internment Camp Survivor a Second Chance at Life

Posted on July 19, 2018

By Michael Onesi, Queen's Alumni Communications Officer

Howie (Hisao) Toda (Sc’52) was always grateful to Queen’s for helping to change his life. Mr. Toda, who passed away in December 2017, overcame a challenging childhood that saw his family imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. After graduating from Queen’s with an engineering degree, he got married, had four children and went on to a long career at Ontario Hydro.

“Queen’s did not judge him by his family heritage or by who his parents were but only by his capabilities and potential,” his son, Brian Toda, told family gathered at Summerhill for his father’s memorial bench dedication held in June. “Queen’s allowed him to pursue his dream and become an electrical engineer. (This bench dedication) is so meaningful because Queen’s represents a momentous inflection point in Dad’s life. He had two different lives – one before Queen’s and one after.”

Although Howie Toda never returned after graduation, Brian said his father spoke fondly of his time at Queen’s. His family felt dedicating a bench on campus was a fitting tribute and a way to bring him back to the school that changed his life.

Toda's graduation photo
Howie (Hisao) Toda (Sc’52).

Mr. Toda was one of three children in his family growing up in New Westminster B.C. His Japanese parents ran a successful boarding house and his childhood was fairly typical. Everything changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Mr. Toda and his family were labelled enemy aliens by the government and stripped of their rights. In February 1942, their family home and car were confiscated and they were moved to an abandoned mining hotel. Howie’s father was forced to work on the Crowsnest Highway.

Bench being unveiled
The memorial bench is unveiled.

After the war, the family was expelled from British Columbia and they relocated to Ontario where Howie and his parents found work as labourers on a farm near Chatham.

Despite these challenges, Howie worked hard to finish high school, was accepted to Queen’s and found jobs to help pay for tuition while studying.

While the Canadian government treated him like an enemy of the state, Queen’s welcomed him.

Brian Toda said his father’s stories about Queen’s didn’t include discrimination. They were typical student stories such as playing pranks, volunteering at the campus radio station (CFRC), and working part time at the campus arena. Some professors and classmates were veterans who fought against Japan in the Second World War, yet Howie always felt like he was treated the same as other students.

family members with bench
The Toda family gathers around the bench.

After graduation, Howie had a long and successful career in Toronto as an engineer (in a variety of increasingly senior roles) with Ontario Hydro. He met his wife, Mariko, who worked as a secretary in a nearby office building. Together, they had four children, and eventually welcomed four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren into their family.

He worked hard to make sure his kids had the type of happy childhood he did not get to enjoy.

“In our wildest dreams, we could not imagine being forced from our comfortable, secure house and have everything taken away,” said Brian. “Growing up, his stories of his time before Queen’s were like exaggerations to me. It has only been as I’ve grown up, gone to school, and raised a family that I’ve come to understand what a heroic effort it was for Dad to make life seem so normal for all of us.”

close-up of plaque
The Howie Toda memorial plaque.

Visit the Queen’s Alumni website to learn more about honorary bench and tree dedications.

This story first appeared on the Queen's Alumni website.