Olive Keeping and Alice Sasaki first met in 1940, when they attended Philip Sheffield High School together in Abbotsford.
But the pair were separated in February 1942 during the Second World War. Alice and her family were among Japanese Canadians residing within 160 km of the Pacific coast who were ordered to move for reasons of “national security.”
The federal government confiscated and sold their property, and the family resettled in Alberta, choosing to work in the sugar beet fields of another land owner.
But Alice never forgot her roots, recalling happy memories of the family farm and her days attending Grade 10 and 11 at Philip Sheffield High School.
Alice – whose surname is now Ohashi – showed up first for the reunion with her sister Tomi Hisaoka, who also attended the school in Grade 10, and Alice’s daughter Joy and granddaughter Alison.
They had just come from visiting the property at the northeast corner of Gladwin and Downes roads where Alice and Tomi lived as children and where their family grew strawberries. Their father had bought the 40-acre site in 1919.
Joy said it has been on her mom’s “bucket list” for quite some time to return to Abbotsford.
“Sometimes you begin to think about the good old days,” said Alice, 89, who now lives in Taber, Alta.
Olive – whose surname is now Curtis – lives in Acme, Wash., and couldn’t wait to reconnect with her beloved friend. The pair have seen each other only one other time, about eight years ago.
Brad Hutchinson, principal of Abbotsford Virtual School, was contacted and asked if the group could meet at the site, which operated as Philip Sheffield High School from 1936 to 1955 and then as an elementary until 1986.
Alice and Tomi were looking through school memorabilia that Hutchinson had laid out for them when Olive, 89, arrived with her son Lawson.
She and Alice immediately moved toward one another, and then hugged and held hands for several minutes before sitting down to talk.
Olive, who grew up on a dairy farm on Sumas Prairie and went on to graduate from the high school, said the pair easily bonded as teens.
“I just enjoyed smart people,” she said.
Alice recalled a particular teacher.
“I remember Mr. Topper because we were running upstairs and he said, ‘Next time you do that, you’re going to write a big essay.’ ”
Tomi said she used to sit behind George Ferguson – who served as Abbotsford’s mayor from 1972-2002 and 2005-2008 – although she couldn’t recall any stories about him.
After the reunion, Joy said her mom was still glowing from the trip.
“She told me that now all of her dreams have come true.”
(Photo below by Vikki Hopes: Olive Curtis (left) and Alice Ohashi (right) recall school memories while Alice’s sister, Tomi Hisaoka, listens in.)