Kanaye Connie Matsuo

(1919 – 2014)

Kanaye Connie Matsuo (nee Sakamoto) was the bridge between generations. She connected younger generations to their Japanese roots, culture and history; she welcomed and gave advice about Canadian life to new families from Japan. She promoted the culture to the great Winnipeg community and became the unofficial advisor on all questions about Japanese Canadian history and culture. She was a true ambassador for the Japanese Canadian community in Manitoba.

Matsuo was born on July 20, 1919 in Vancouver, BC. As the first in her family to be born in Canada, her beloved grandfather, Daisaku Izumi, named her Kanaye in honour of her country of birth. Kanaye was the eldest of seven daughters. She spoke fondly of her early years in Vancouver, attending Strathcona School and the Vancouver Japanese Language School until her early teens. In order to help her parents and younger siblings, Kanaye left school to work in the local sewing factory.

In 1941, she married Hisashi Matsuo in Vancouver. Soon after the birth of daughter Janet, the family had to leave their farm and belongings behind and were moved to Manitoba due to the forced evacuation of all Canadians of Japanese ancestry during WWII. After many moves within the outskirts of Winnipeg, the Matsuo family settled in North Kildonan and welcomed son Rodney and daughter Sharon. Her expertise in the sewing industry kept her busy as a supervisor at many local factories, including Viceroy Clothing and Westcott Jeans.

In addition to working fulltime and raising a family, Matsuo was also a dedicated member of the Manitoba Buddhist Church since its inception in 1946. During this era, Japanese Canadians did not have a centre or location to meet and gather. The church became the social gathering place for community activities. Matsuo was an avid volunteer at the church and was often working behind the scenes for the women’s group “Fujinkai”. Her deep Buddhist belief of compassion for all was the mantra of her volunteerism throughout her life.

After 52 years in the sewing industry, Matsuo retired at 66 years of age. But she could not stop working for very long. In 1987, at the age of 68, she was recruited as the volunteer manager at the newly formed Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

Her dedication to her second career is legendary. The first person to arrive in the morning and the last person to leave at night, Matsuo devoted all her energy into making the centre the success it is today. She organized many of the fundraising activities at the Centre, especially all of the Japanese cuisine events. She freely shared all of her family recipes, many of which are still used today.

Fully bilingual, Matsuo was often called upon to translate documents and interpret for visitors from Japan. Due to her work with the Cultural Centre, Matsuo was asked to join former mayor Glen Murray as part of the official Winnipeg delegation to Setagaya, Japan.

Kanaye Connie Matsuo passed away in 2014.

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