Mary Toshiko Kimoto was honoured last week with a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers for the many years she has devoted to bettering Ucluelet. The Medal for Volunteers is an official Canadian honour and the only one for volunteerism given by the Governor General of Canada.
Mary was presented the Sovereign’s Medal by Ucluelet’s RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Steve Mancini and Mayor Mayco Noël at the start of the Oct. 22 regular council meeting. The packed audience of friends, family and supporters celebrated her prestigious award with a standing ovation.
“Thank you. I believe there are many more people here today that deserve this honour more than me,” said Mary. “Thank you for offering it to me. I love you all and I love Ucluelet. Thank you so much.”
Mary moved to the West Coast with her husband Tom in 1951. Tom had been a fisherman in Tofino when he was forcibly removed during Japanese-Canadian Internment in 1942. The family had intended to resettle in Tofino, but found too much tension against Japanese Canadians so they moved to Ucluelet instead.
“She bonded a small community of Japanese. She was instantly a leader. People relied on her,” said Mary’s niece Ellen Kimoto.
Mary was involved in forming the Recreational Commission and the Swimming Club at Kennedy Lake. She is also a founding member of the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society (UAHS).
Mayor Noël offered a heartfelt thank you to Mary on behalf of the community.
“She is an inspiration and true matriarch for the historical society. Mary is a proud representative of our local heritage. She was instrumental in having the Ucluelet area officially acknowledged as a historic place in the Heritage B.C. Japanese Historic Places recognition project in 2017. Today we celebrate and honour Mary Kimoto’s years of volunteerism and passion for the community,” said Noël.
Ucluelet residents Mary Christmas and Shirley Martin played a large role in bringing the Medal for Volunteers to Mary.
“We look up to her so much. She’s done so much for the community,” said Martin, adding that the nomination process took about two years and that district staff were also integral in getting the medal to Mary.
“I was born the year Mary came to Ucluelet. Ever since I was born, she’s been here doing things for the community. For me, she’s just always been here as a mainstay of someone that quietly goes about doing things without ever looking for acknowledgement,” Martin said.
“I think the [Sovereign’s Medal] fits perfectly. I’m just thrilled. You can tell by the response of everyone in the room. You can just see how much she is admired and love,” she said.
Christmas remembers when Mary was her landlady back in 1968.
“I spent a lot of time with her and feel really honoured to be her friend. She is gentle and generous. She’s got a fantastic sense of humour,” said Christmas.
“She raised money in those simple ways for years with the goal of a museum for the UAHS,” Christmas went on to say.
At 97-years of age, Mary continues to petition for a museum that would honour the local Japanese families, First Nations, and pioneers of the Ucluelet area.
– With files from Andrew Bailey
– Video by Phil Hood