An historic Japanese Canadian fishing boat that is the last of its kind in Canada will now be preserved, thanks to the efforts of the Slocan Valley Historical Society.
The Merriwake, a 31-foot gill netter built in 1929 by master builder Isamu (Sam) Matsumoto, has been purchased by the society, which intends to restore the vessel for a dry-land display in Slocan.
“We are grateful to so many people,” says president Joyce Johnson, “including Joy Kogawa, Ian Fraser and Columbia Basin Trust for the funds needed to purchase the boat and the many amazing people in Kaslo for their efforts in saving her from Kootenay Lake.
“And finally, we are grateful to previous owner Ted Fitzgerald for entrusting the society with this important artifact. It truly has taken a village. The next step is to apply for grants and raise funds for the restoration of the boat and the creation of the display.”
The Merriwake had been submerged in Kootenay Lake near Kaslo before being salvaged a couple years ago. Despite being waterlogged, the ship is in good shape, a testament to the quality of her construction.
Local shipwright Eric Chevalier of The Copper Nail in Bonnington will begin the restoration of the Merriwake. Nelson engineer Ted Nunn and Slocan Valley designer Eric Clough will assist with the structure which will house the boat. Slocan logger and historical society director Gary Burns will donate timbers for the shelter.
Kaslo historian Ian Fraser will create the interpretive signage which will detail the boat’s journey and some of the Japanese Canadian history in the area. And former owner Ted Fitzgerald will create short film/picture montages to document her journey including her restoration.
“This is a local effort but it’s important on a national scale,” says Johnson. We are supported in this initiative by the Village of Slocan, Slocan Valley Historical Trail Society, and Recreation Sites and Trails BC.
“Our hope is that the Merriwake will bring our community together in shared project that will be a place of pride but also reflection, meditation and learning,” says society vice-president Anitra Winje.
“The Merriwake is valuable for what she represents: the craftsmanship and social/economic/cultural contributions of Japanese Canadian boat buildings and fishermen. But she is also a poignant and essential reminder of the terrible injustice endured by Japanese Canadians. We must not forget this part of our past. The Merriwake will help ensure we don’t.”
Anyone interested in getting on board the Merriwake project or learning more about the society can call 250-355-2230.