From the Archives: Japanese gardeners

Jenny Seeman
Japanese garden, Hatley Park ca. 1927

With spring well on the way, it won’t be long before the Japanese gardens at Royal Roads are looking splendid. The beauty of the gardens is due in no small part to the work of our wonderful gardens and grounds team, but credit should also be given to the designers of the gardens whose careful planning and vision left a legacy we can all enjoy today. Thanks to archival records, we know who those designers were and some of their personal and professional life stories. The Japanese garden actually has two distinct areas: the upper Japanese garden, designed by Isaburo Kishida, and the lower garden, which was developed over several years by Tadashi Noda.

Isaburo Kishida came to Victoria in 1907 at the request of his son, Yoshijiro (Joe) Kishida, and his business partner Hayato (Harry) Takata. Joe was an entrepreneur who proposed a plan to bring an authentic Japanese Tea Garden to the Gorge Park in Esquimalt. Situated at the end of the streetcar line, it was sure to become a popular destination point for tourists and locals alike. Also at the Gorge, adjacent to the tea gardens and opened in 1908, was Jenkichi Nishimoto’s floating tea house and Yakata (boat), which would take passengers on a short pleasure ride further up the Gorge.

Nishimoto's Tea House. Photo Credit: Esquimalt Municipal Archives, v986.16.23

Nishimoto's Tea House. Photo Credit: Esquimalt Municipal Archives, v986.16.23 

Kishidas and Takadas at the Gorge Park gardens. Photo credit: Esquimalt Municipal Archives, v986.18.20

 The Takadas and Kishidas at the Gorge Park gardens. Isaburo is seated second from right. Photo credit: Esquimalt Municipal Archives, v986.18.20 

Isaburo was 70 years old when he travelled from Yokohama and designed the Gorge Park gardens. The plan included several ponds decorated with stone lanterns, as well as an iris garden, a wisteria arbour and tea house. Interest in Japanese gardens and culture had been gradually spreading after the San Francisco World’s Fair of 1894, which had included a demonstration garden. The Gorge Tea Garden was a huge success and Kishida was commissioned to create more private gardens in Victoria before his return to Japan in 1912, most notably Hatley Park and the gardens at Jennie Butchart’s property. Catalogues from Yokohama nurseries and receipts for plant orders bearing the name Kishida demonstrate the planning and design that were used for these gardens. In laying out the gardens, Kishida had a small team of helpers, including Jenkichi Nishimoto.

Kishida's garden at Hatley. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, 3309046

Soon after the castle completion. Kishida's garden lies to the north of the pond. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, 3309046

Kishida’s Japanese garden at Hatley was much smaller than it is today. It is understood that his design is located around the wisteria arbour, and includes the circular lawn with the weeping cherry tree.

When Isaburo Kishida returned to Japan, a capable gardener was needed to cultivate the gardens he had started. At Hatley Park, Tadashi Noda was responsible for the Japanese gardens from about 1913 through to 1927 when he left the gardening profession to become a full time masseur with a store on Fort Street.

Tadashi Noda was born in a village in Hiroshima prefecture to a moderately wealthy family. He came to Canada in 1899 when he was 17 years old to work as a domestic help and gardener to Edward Hunt, a builder-contractor who lived on Rockland Avenue. There was a small but thriving Japanese population in Victoria at this time and it is very likely that Noda established a relationship with Kishida and Takada at the Gorge as part of the Japanese community in Victoria. Noda’s role with Mr. Hunt was not just inside the house, he was also his gardener and had proven abilities of his own in Japanese landscape design. In 1911, he had been working for Edward Hunt for 12 years, and was earning $300/year (by comparison the Chinese labourers at Hatley Park were earning $468/year). In 1912, he returned briefly to Japan and married Teru Sakai through an arranged marriage and brought her back to Victoria.

Tadashi Noda and Teru Sakai on their wedding day. Photo credit: Private family collection

Tadashi Noda and Teru Sakai on their wedding day. Photo credit: Private family collection

Tadashi Noda continued to work for Edward Hunt in some capacity until mid-1913 although at the same time, he started his own business as a Japanese Landscape Gardener with Jenkichi Nishimoto, who worked at the Gorge and had helped Kishida establish the Japanese gardens around Victoria.  They advertised their services in the local papers and probably took over the maintenance of Kishida’s gardens.

Daily Colonist, May 18, 1913. p.22

Daily Colonist, May 18, 1913. p.22

By November of 1913, the Noda family were living in Colwood, possibly at Hatley Park, and 3 daughters were born here, Marion, Sede, and Shige. In 1919, Teru succumbed to breast cancer. The family had returned to Japan to treat her cancer but it was not successful. While in Japan, another arranged marriage saw Noda married to Miki Hayashi in January of 1920, and the two youngest daughters were adopted by Japanese families that February. Tadashi and Miki returned to Canada with Noda’s eldest daughter, Marion, and he continued his work at Hatley Park and other gardens until about 1927. Miki had two children.

One of Noda's Children in the Japanese garden. RRU Archives

One of Noda's Children in the Japanese garden. Photo credit: RRU Archives.

Noda did not work exclusively for the Dunsmuir family. A number of other Japanese style gardens in Victoria were created by him. He had responsibility for the upkeep of the Butchart Japanese gardens as well as Hatley, and was employed in 1920 to create a garden for Judge Lampman at his home on York Place. The Havenwood Estate, adjacent to Hatley Park, purchased in 1925 by the Pendray family, also had a Noda garden.

Noda’s second career was in Shiatsu massage. He would occasionally give massages to Laura Dunsmuir and her guests and in 1927 opened his own business on Fort Street. At the shop, he was one of few practitioners at the time of ‘electropathy’ or electrotherapy – the use of electricity in massage. He worked in massage therapy alongside his daughter, Marion, until 1942 when they were both interned at Greenwood, BC. His wife Miki, had returned to Japan with the two children, June and George, sometime before.

The internment of all people of Japanese descent occurred in Canada and the US as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbour during World War II. Many of the people uprooted from their homes had been born in Canada or were naturalised Canadians. Tadashi Noda himself had taken the oath of naturalisation in August of 1911. Keen to help the war effort, many Japanese Canadians went willingly to the camps, on the understanding that the government would keep their property and possessions in trust. However, policy soon changed and the property and possessions of Japanese Canadians were sold with no recompense to the families now living in internment camps. In contrast to the US, where Japanese people were allowed to return to their homes as soon as the war had ended, the Canadian government maintained the camps until 1949.

It is not known what happened to Tadashi Noda after his time at the camp. In 1949, he was 67 years old and estranged from his family. Disillusioned by his war time experience, he may have returned permanently to Japan.

The Japanese gardens here at Hatley Park are a beautiful living reminder of the positive impact Tadashi Noda had on his adopted nation home.

Noda in the Rosa Garden with John Graham

Noda, with his back to the camera, leading a discussion in the rose garden with John Graham Graham, Estate Manager for the Dunsmuirs. Photo Credit: RRU Archives.

Bridge and pavillion

The bridges, pavillion, and pond plantings are attributable to Noda and Nishimoto.

For questions or comments on gardens and site history, contact Jenny Seeman in the archives, ext. 4122.