Historic Structure In Ontario Is Under Threat

Internment camp for Japanese - Canadians in British Columbia.
Internment camp for Japanese - Canadians in British Columbia.

A motorist driving by what once was known as the Eatonville Roadhouse in southwestern Ontario, Canada, would never guess it’s possibly the last piece of history in the province associated with the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II.

Now, it’s a derelict former hotel infested with raccoons.

Locals hope a benefactor will appear soon, very soon, to save the building from demolition and rescue it for history’s sake.

Almost a year ago, Chatham-Kent municipal council voted to strip the building of its historic designation, making it possible for the current owners to clear the site. The two-storey stucco structure lays approximately three hours’ drive west of Toronto.

Eight decades ago, the property was transferred by J.A. Eaton to Howard Pyne who sold bootleg liquor out of the hotel. In 1942 Pyne permitted the federal government to rent the property as an internment camp for 55 Japanese-Canadians. They were among the 20,000 torn from their homes in British Columbia. The Japanese men were detailed to work a short distance away at Rondeau Provincial Park clearing brush and timber – this ended in 1943.

They constructed a Japanese bath at the hotel to soak in after returning from work.

Pyne’s son, Ralph, said his father would build a fire under it to heat water. Following their soak, the men would roll around in the snow. His mother used to go to her bedroom and pull the blinds down, so she didn’t have to see them.

Most recently, the roadhouse was utilized as lodging for seasonal migrant laborers employed by the DeBrouwers, a local prominent agricultural family.

For the past few years, however, the property has sat abandoned, disappearing piece by piece to vandals and furry creatures of the night.  In late 2015, the family applied to the city for the go-ahead to tear the structure down.  The municipal heritage committee attempted to persuade the council to keep the site.

But by a 17 to 1 vote, the Chatham-Kent Council favored stripping away its historic designation believing it to be irreparable. Only a few days later, members of the National Association of Japanese Canadians appeared to assess the real estate.

Ken Noma, executive director of the association, in a later report, estimated acquiring the building would cost between $20,000 to $30,000  and an additional $400,000 to $700,000 for renovations.  In his report, Noma mentioned other options included building a memorial site or installing a permanent exhibit at the municipal museum, National Post reported.

Vince DeBrouwer, whose family possesses the property, said given the interest about the site’s historical significance the family delayed taking any action over the past year to determine if any offers appeared. None were made, he said. He‘s uncertain how much longer the family can delay, since safeguarding the property has become a problem.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE