Jennifer Spence contemplates her family’s experiences in internment camps for roles in two important projects

Jennifer Spence visited Hastings Park with Courier photographer Dan Toulgoet last week to shoot in and around the buildings where her great-grandmother and great aunts were housed before being sent to an internment camp in Tashmie, B.C. Photograph By PHOTO DAN TOULGOET

Jennifer Spence isn’t privy to many stories about her mother’s family from the years leading up to the Second World War. She knows that both sets of great-grandparents emigrated from Japan; that her mother’s parents were born in Canada; that her grandfather’s parents owned a rooming house at 561 East Hastings, a stone’s throw away from the heart of Vancouver’s once thriving Japantown.

Spence knows far more about what happened to her family after the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, when a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment swept across the continent, and all Japanese Canadians — no matter where they were born, or how long they’d lived in Canada — were officially labeled enemy aliens.

Spence’s relatives were among the 22,000 Canadian citizens and residents uprooted from their lives, stripped of their belongings and jobs, and crammed into internment camps far from the West Coast.

Internment and what it means to be the descendent of camp survivors are topics that Spence — a Leo Award-winning actress whose filmography includes TravelersContinuumYou Me Her and Down River — hasn’t explored in her acting work, until now.