By Greg Evans, Municipal archivist
The original Japanese Tea Garden in Esquimalt Gorge Park was established in 1907 by Hayato Takata and Yoshitaro Kishida with the co-operation of the B.C. Electric Railway Company, the property owners.
Joe’s father, Isaburo Kishida, a professional gardener from Yokohama, Japan, designed the Japanese-style tea garden complete with tea house. He also designed Japanese Gardens for the Butchart family and for the Dunsmuir family at Hatley Park.
Kishida imported plantings and dwarfed trees from Japan for the one-acre site. The garden featured Japanese-style bridges, an ornamental stream, stone lanterns, porcelain figures and of course an authentic tea house, built and decorated with materials imported from Japan – it soon became famous for its brunch and afternoon tea.
By the mid- 1920s, fewer visitors were coming to the garden, due largely to the advent of the automobile and the ability of people to travel farther seeking entertainment. In 1924, Joe Kishida returned to Japan after selling his interest in the garden to Kensuki Takata who along with his brother continued to operate the business.
In 1920, Toyo Takata was born in the family residence adjacent to the tea garden. Toyo, who attended Lampson Street School and Esquimalt High, also worked at the garden. He was the cashier at the candy counter in a setting he fondly described as “near paradise.”
In 1942, during the Second World War, the garden closed. The Takata family was interned and re-located to the Slocan. With their departure, the garden fell victim to neglect and vandalism, the buildings torn down as potential “fire hazards.” After the war, the family settled in Toronto.
Toyo made many trips back to Esquimalt to share his story and that of the Takata Garden with individuals and organizations such as the Takata Japanese Garden Society. In 2009 an official re-opening ceremony took place in Gorge Park, with features reflecting the original garden.
Greg Evans is the Township of Esquimalt’s municipal archivist.