History of the Garden


Before he died, Dr. Nitobe left a lasting impression on the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver. To commemorate his work towards building a strong relationship between Japan and Canada, members of the Japanese Canadian community, the “friends of Dr. Nitobe,” and the Government of Japan commissioned a memorial to be built in his name on the UBC campus. Two years after his death, a large kasuga style lantern arrived from Japan and a small memorial garden was built around it.

In the 1940’s with the rise of World War II, anti-Japanese sentiment ran high. The lantern was vandalized and damaged during a time when over 20,000 Japanese-Canadians (mostly British Columbians) were stripped of their property and wealth, and sent to internment camps in BC and farms in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. Internment lasted until  April 1 1949 – the day internees were allowed to return to the Coast. For more information, see the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre’s pages on Japanese Canadian History.

It was not until the late 1950s that the decision was made to restore Dr. Nitobe’s memorial and create a larger traditional Japanese garden on UBC campus. Major support for the garden’s construction came from Norman Mackenzie, then president of UBC (1944 to 1962), who had known Dr. Nitobe through their mutual work for the League of Nations in Geneva following the First World War. Once the plan was approved, Kannosuke Mori, a renowned landscape architect from Chiba University, was selected by the Government of Japan to design the garden. Mori arrived in 1959 and spent 14 months designing and building the garden with the help of local Japanese Canadian gardeners.  Boulders, rocks, and stones from around the province and a combination of native plants and plants shipped from Japan were carefully chosen for the garden. Not only did Mori place each rock and plant individually, but he taught the workers proper maintenance and construction techniques for the future preservation and maintenance of the garden. Inspired by the construction of the garden, a core group of Japanese Canadian gardeners formed the Vancouver Japanese Gardeners’ Association.  The leadership of the Vancouver Japanese Gardeners Association continued to fulfil responsibility to provide Garden maintenance over many years after the departure of Professor Mori.

Nitobe Memorial Garden was completed in 1960. Shortly after his return to Japan that year, Mori, aged 66, passed away. Nitobe Memorial Garden was his last creation.