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Seniors share stories through community project

By Hannah Scott

Published 2:34 PDT, Fri June 17, 2022

Seniors have countless stories to tell. And for Bea Martin, a local artist and member of the Community Arts Council of Richmond (CACR), finding a way to share those stories was imperative after the isolation of the pandemic.

“I thought during the pandemic, (seniors) were the ones who suffered the most in terms of isolation. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to listen to more seniors’ stories,” says Martin. “At the same time, I love making portraits (and) find it fascinating, especially older people—the living history is in their face, and I love how every single line tells a story.”

Martin always hoped to work on a project like this, where she would speak to people and paint their portraits, and she applied to take part in a CACR exhibition that was cancelled due to the pandemic. But she went back to the CACR team and proposed a new idea, giving it the name Faces of Richmond. A volunteer team was formed in October 2021, meeting virtually to organize interviews.

“We first did a call for seniors and a call for artists, and we waited. We didn’t want to say ’no’ to anybody, that was our goal,” says Martin.

In the end, 10 artists worked on 12 portraits. Interviews were approached as informal conversations to help seniors feel more comfortable. Photographs of the seniors were taken and given to artists for their paintings. The finished portraits will be given to the seniors.

The intention is to build community by connecting younger and older people. Seniors were asked what they want to tell young people and what gives them joy, among other questions. The goal is to repeat the project annually, and Martin anticipates there will be a lot of interest next year given the success of the inaugural efforts. 

“My hope is that this project is made for (seniors) to feel that they belong, and to look back with pride and feel that their contribution matters, that they’re a pillar in the community,” says Martin. 

One interviewee was 84-year-old Jim Kojima, who has lived in Richmond for 75 years.

“I was born in Richmond, evacuated to Alberta during the war years, came back to Richmond in 1951 and have been (here) ever since,” says Kojima.

He learned about the project through the Minoru Seniors Centre, where he is a director and treasurer. Kojima has also been involved with a number of Richmond organizations over the years, including 70 years with the Steveston Judo Club. He also spent time fishing, and both his father and grandfather were fishers.

Over his lifetime in Richmond, Kojima says the hardship faced by Japanese people prior to and during the Second World War stands out.

“The resilience and the people, the first-generation people, how hard they worked and didn’t complain and in some cases came with nothing,” says Kojima. “(They) got everything taken away in 1942 and came back with nothing, and basically started their lives two or three times over from scratch. They lived their lives in a way that (they) always thought of contributing back to the city or the country that they now lived in.”

Kojima was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983 for his contributions to judo in Canada. He was an international referee and involved with six Olympic Games and multiple World Judo Championships. Later he was president of Judo Canada and director of the International Judo Federation Referee Commission.

“I had many opportunities to serve the judo community but also bring back to the Steveston Judo Club my experiences,” says Kojima.

He hopes the Faces of Richmond project leaves people with a better understanding of each other, “because (people of many ethnicities) live in Richmond and that’s what makes our community vibrant, and I hope we can all live together in peace and harmony.”

Kojima also looks forward to the completion of the new Steveston Community Centre, which will replace the current 1957 building. The current community centre was paid for by Steveston residents, resulting in extra taxes for 20 years.

“The Japanese people were going to build their own community centre and they were asked to join the community centre for everyone. The Japanese contributed $15,000 of money they had (from) pre-war years,” he says.

“I’m happy and proud to be a Richmond resident. I just hope we can live a harmonious life, all of us, in the future.”

The Faces of Richmond project was sponsored by CACR, the City of Richmond, Minoru Seniors Society, Richmond Photo Club, Minoru Centre for Active Living, and Phoenix Art Workshop. In addition to Martin, the organizing team included Mell D’Clute, Jimmy Ho, Susan Ness, and Susan Stolberg. Martin also expressed gratitude to Sonja Pickering and Omar Rajan for their help.

Art and audio recordings of stories are available online through July 6.

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