Hands-On Canadian History: Japanese Internment Camps

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II, the government of Canada decided that all Japanese-Canadians needed to be put in Japanese Internment Camps. Fearing that there could be some hidden danger from these people, they were forced to leave their homes and jobs to live in a designated compound under supervision. Abled-bodied men were forced to work on roadways, farms, and other projects. Although the war ended in 1945, the camps remained in effect until 1949.

How can you talk to a child about the idea of segregation? This idea can work not only for the topic of the experiences of the Japanese community during the war, but also for other cultural groups such as the First Nations peoples, the Jewish people in the holocaust, and even the Islamic people today.

Hands-on Canadian History: Japanese Internment Camps
Gummy Bears on Shutterstock

Gummy Bear Segregation Activity

Materials needed:

  • 1 package of gummy bears
  • At least 1 container or bin

What to do:

First, talk to your children about what happened during the war, particularly about how Japan joined the Second World War and attacked the United States. Explain how that made the Canadian government nervous that Japanese people would attack Canada too, and since some Japanese people were living in Canada – they were extra nervous that they would attack Canada from inside the country. They had to come up with a plan.

Open the gummy bears and dump them all out. This represents the population of the country – a mix and match collection of ethnic groups. Now pick out all of one colour and put them in the container and push them off to the side. These represent the Japanese people being sent off to a camp to live.

Teaching About Segregation with Gummy Bears

Get them to imagine and envision what it would be like if they had to leave their homes and friends and go live somewhere designated by the government. How would that make them feel? What would be the hardest part?

This is a good time to talk about segregation – about whether it is fair, right, or the best solution to separate one group of people from everyone else just because they are from the same country, religion, or cultural group and “might be” a threat. Come up with some ideas about how this situation could have been handled more appropriately. Kids are great at coming up with creative thoughts of how to handle problems. But, even if they can’t – it shows how hard a situation like this could be to find a fair and just solution for.

After talking about all of these complex and somewhat confusing ideas, bring the segregated bears back to the main group. Give them hope that we as a people want change and want to respect other cultures and people and that they can help. Talk about ways that we can help support others and make sure things like the Japanese internment camps don’t happen again.

Find out more about the Japanese-Canadian Internment Camps.

When you are finished your lesson, make sure you enjoy your gummy bear treats!

See all 31 Days of  Hands-on Canadian History.

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Lisa Marie Fletcher
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