top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarc S. Tremblay

Important new Japanese connection to Mayne Island

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

After we purchased the lot on Gallagher Bay Road, Dana and I were curious about the history of our new property. We knew the previous owners, Gary and Susan, had owned it since 1980, but who were the other past owners; how much was the land valued at different points in time; when was the land subdivided?

In BC, it’s difficult to do your own title property searches. You may be able to go to the local museum or archives and find some information, but to do it well, you’ll need to hire a professional. These folks are notaries, lawyers, or “Registry Agents.” Not only do they have the knowledge and skills to do the research properly, but they have access to databases that the public can’t access.

We hired Wendy Smith Registry Services Ltd. to complete the search as far she could go back. She pulled all the land titles and deeds going back to the original land grant, in October 1901.

The Crown granted the 159-acre parcel of land, described as follows, which included our modern day 1.02-acre parcel, to Mr. Cyrus Dean.

"All and Singular, that certain parcel or tract of land and premises, situate in Mayne Island, Cowichan District said to contain 159 acres, more or less, and more particularly described as Fractional Northwest quarter of Section Three (3) of this said Mayne Island, Cowichan District, in the Province of British Columbia."

In today's terms, this 159-acres property included lots on the far east part of Marine Drive, some properties on Bluff Way, Marine Turnabout, the east portion of Tinker Road and Gallagher Bay Road (approximately 641 to 694), up to Purcell Road, "more or less."

Here is an approximate overlay of the Land Grant map with the Islands Trust's development permit map:

Mayne Island Land Grant map of Section 3 overlaid with modern map of Mayne Island
The 159 acres of "Fractional Northwest quarter of Section Three (3)" overlaid in pink on a modern map showing present-day property divisions.

About 3 1/2 years after first acquiring the land, on April 26, 1905, Mr. Dean entered in an agreement for the sale of the same parcel to Mr. Washiji Oya.

Interesting name – it sounds Japanese...

I wondered if this person was related to any of the other Japanese families that settled on Mayne Island at the turn of the century, so I looked them up: Kadonaga, Konishi, Kosumi, Koyama, Minamide, Nagata, Saga, Sasaki, Sumi, Teremoto.

Nope, not one of them, so I Googled his name.

To my surprise, I found hits for “Washiji Oya” right away, and what a discovery it is, but we have to go back in time another 18 years for the significance of this find.

Mr. Oya was an early Japanese settler to the Vancouver area. It's unclear exactly when he arrived in Canada, likely in mid-1880s, but records report that his wife, Ms. Yo Oya (nee Shishido), travelled from Japan to be with her husband, Washiji, in 1887.

Officially, she's the first Japanese woman to come to Canada!

Together, her and her husband opened the first general store to serve the needs of a fast-growing Japanese community in Vancouver, at 457 Powell Street.

Yo Oya (nee Sishido)
Yo Oya (nee Sishido) (Photo source:

In addition, in 1889, Yo Oya was the first Japanese woman to give birth to Japanese-Canadian children in Canada.

Their first-born son, Katsuji Oya, was born on August 8, 1889. Their second-born, another son, Jiro Oya, was born December 28, 1890.

Washiji Oya and his children Jiro Oya and Katsuji Oya
Washiji Oya and children Jiro and Katsuji (photo source:

The following documents are the children's birth certificates, found on BC Archives:

There are many internet references to Yo Oya being the first Japanese Woman to come to Canada, including Nikkei Stories and the National Association of Japanese Canadians.

Click the image below to view a short video. It discusses Yo (Yoko) Oya coming to Canada, and how life wasn't always easy for the Japanese woman that followed.

Click the photo above to view the video.

Let's get back to the Oyas owning 159 acres on Mayne Island...

Remember, the sale agreement was dated April 26, 1905, for the sum of $700. The agreement shows they purchased the land with a $300 down payment, and the remainder paid in yearly instalments of $100 until 1909, plus 7% interest.

The Oyas eventually sold the property in June 1908 to Mary Alice Watson, of Victoria. The purchase price was $800, with $200 payable upon signature of the agreement, $500 payable in December of the same year, and the final $100, payable in April 1909 (matching the original purchase agreement with Cyrus Dean). Mary Alice Watson was married to Alexander Watson, Jr.

I haven't spent much time researching Mr. or Mrs. Watson, Jr. So far, research suggests that Mr. Watson, Jr. was an "outstanding designer and builder of stern-wheel riverboats in British Columbia" (Source: UBC Library, British Columbia Historical Quarterly, July-October 1949). I'll continue to research that part of the story and update this post if I find new and interesting information about her or her husband.

The Oyas owned the parcel of land for just over three years. With travel to and from the Gulf Islands more challenging in the early 1900s, I wonder if they ever had a chance to visit their land. So many questions come to mind:

  • What was their original intent in purchasing the land: a short-term speculative investment, or was it more of a long-term plan?

  • Maybe they were interested in harvesting timber?

  • Maybe they hoped it had agricultural potential?

  • How often did they visit?

  • Did they have ties to the other Japanese families on the Island?

  • How did they connect with Mary Alice Watson in Victoria for the sale of the land?

In closing, we find it interesting and amazing that through historical land titles and deeds, we discovered a new connection to Mayne Island's rich Japanese history:

A 159-acre parcel of land on Mayne Island was once owned by the first Japanese woman to come to Canada and her husband - parents to the first recorded natural born Japanese-Canadian children.

Additional details and questions on the Oya family:

  • Their first-born, Katsuji Oya, died on June 18, 1922, at the age of 32

  • Their second-born son, Jiro Oya, 40, married Shizue Sakamoto, 26, on August 27, 1931

  • Jiro and Shizue had 4 girls: Naomi Oya, Ida Oya, Rita Oya (also listed as Ethel Oya), and Nana Oya

  • Jiro Oya passed away on March 28, 1974 at the age of 83

  • At some point, Washiji replaced the "j" in his first name to "Washisi", while it's also spelled "Washiri" on some official correspondence

  • Washisi died in Vancouver on January 18, 1941 at the age of 85

  • I have not yet found information on Yo Oya's death

  • There are other individuals of the Oya family name that I haven't determined if, or how, they fit in the puzzle:

    • Kojiro Oya, born in Bella Bella, November 21, 1915

    • Ayami Oya, 65, married Tatsuki Nakamura, 61, on March 10, 1941 (maybe Washiji's sister?)

    • Hitoshi Oya, married to Chie Fujita, who died March 11, 1993, at 77

If you also find all of this interesting, and/or you have related interesting historical details to share, or if you'd like to review some of the land titles and deeds that we've obtained through this research, feel free to reach out to us!

Finally, despite this factual and historical account of colonialism and of settlers buying and selling land, we recognize that this 159-acre parcel, which was granted by the Crown and bought and sold many times is part of the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territories of the Straits Salish Peoples, on the island called SḴŦAḴ in SENĆOŦEN, the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. We look forward to continuing to learn about the rich history of Indigenous peoples on this land since time immemorial, and their ongoing relationship with the region. We're grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and serenity of Mayne Island.

887 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Sep 11, 2023

What an interesting story! Thank you for probing a bit into this history and presenting us with such a well-researched and fascinating article!

bottom of page