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Cherry tree planting honours Japanese heritage in Esquimalt park

Gorge Park was the site of Canada’s first Japanese garden
Dillon Takata and Mayor Barb Desjardin unveil a stone commemorating the Takata family’s history and contributions to the area. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

The ceremonial planting of a cherry tree in Gorge Park Friday (Oct. 15) marked the renewal of a more than century-long history of Japanese entrepreneurship and culture in the area.

The park became well-known across Greater Victoria and beyond in 1907 when Hayato Takata and Yoshitaro Kishida founded Canada’s first Japanese tea house and garden. People travelled from all over to visit the acclaimed site until 1942 when the Second World War began and Japanese-Canadians across the country were forced into internment camps.

The garden fell into disrepair and the buildings were torn down as a potential “fire hazard.”

It wasn’t until 2009, with the urging and support of Takata’s descendants, that Esquimalt officially re-opened the park, with features echoing the original garden. Since then, new plans have taken shape and the township is in the midst of further revitalizing the area, including a Japanese-inspired pavilion for community gathering and a cherry tree forest funded in part by a $25,000-donation from members of the Takata family.

READ ALSO: Japanese tea garden was a sight to behold

“The legacy of the garden, the memories that my grandfather and his siblings have growing up here carried on through the generations such that when the opportunity came for us to make a contribution towards the beautification and rejuvenation of this spot, everyone was very eager to do so,” Takata’s great-grandson Dillon Takata told those gathered at the ceremonial planting Friday.

Cherry trees, Mayor Barb Desjardin said, are the perfect marker of moving forward. They represent good fortune, new beginnings and renewal.

“I hope in some way it is some reparation, maybe not the way it fully could have been, but this will bring back that which the family did so well,” Desjardin told Black Press Media.

Indeed, Dillon Takata said the planting of the trees felt symbolic of his family once again laying down roots in Esquimalt.

“It makes me happy to think of all the happy memories that will be made in this garden over the coming years,” he said. “I think that these trees are also a symbol of hope for the future, something that will continue to grow larger, stronger and more beautiful as the years go by.”

The revitalized garden and new pavilion are scheduled to be complete by early 2022.

READ ALSO: Ground breaks on Esquimalt Gorge Park upgrades

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