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A life-changing experience

A new bench near Summerhill has been dedicated to an engineering alumnus who credited Queen's with helping him pursue his dreams.

[Howie Toda]
Howie (Hisao) Toda (BSc’52). (Supplied Photo)

Howie (Hisao) Toda (BSc’52) was always grateful to Queen’s for helping to change his life.

Mr. Toda, who passed away in December 2017, overcame a challenging childhood that saw his family imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. After graduating from Queen’s with an engineering degree, he got married, had four children, and went on to a long career at Ontario Hydro.

“Queen’s did not judge him by his family heritage or by who his parents were, but only by his capabilities and potential,” his son, Brian Toda, told family gathered at Summerhill for his father’s memorial bench dedication held in June. “Queen’s allowed him to pursue his dream and become an electrical engineer. [This bench dedication] is so meaningful because Queen’s represents a momentous inflection point in Dad’s life. He had two different lives – one before Queen’s and one after.”

Although Mr. Toda never returned after graduation, Brian said his father spoke fondly of his time at Queen’s. His family felt that dedicating a bench on campus was a fitting tribute and a way to bring him back to the school that changed his life.

Mr. Toda was one of three children in his family who grew up in New Westminster, B.C. His Japanese parents ran a successful boarding house and his childhood was fairly typical. Everything changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Mr. Toda and his family were labeled enemy aliens by the government and stripped of their rights. In February 1942, their family home and car were confiscated and they were moved to an abandoned mining hotel. Howie’s father was forced to work on the Crowsnest Highway.

After the war, the family was expelled from British Columbia and they relocated to Ontario, where Mr. Toda and his parents found work as labourers on a farm near Chatham.

Despite these challenges, Mr. Toda worked hard to finish high school, was accepted to Queen’s, and found jobs to help pay for tuition while studying.

While the Canadian government treated him like an enemy of the state, Queen’s welcomed him.

Mr. Brian Toda said his father’s stories about Queen’s didn’t include discrimination. They were typical student stories such as playing pranks, volunteering at campus radio station CFRC, and working part-time at the campus arena. Some professors and classmates were veterans who fought against Japan in the Second World War, yet Mr. Toda always felt like he was treated the same as other students. 

After graduation, Mr. Toda had a long and successful career in Toronto as an engineer in a variety of increasingly senior roles with Ontario Hydro. While there, he met his wife, Mariko, who worked as a secretary in a nearby office building. Together, they had four children and eventually welcomed four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren into their family. He worked hard to make sure his kids had the type of happy childhood he did not get to enjoy.

“In our wildest dreams, we could not imagine being forced from our comfortable, secure house and have everything taken away,” said Mr. Brian Toda. “Growing up, his stories of his time before Queen’s were like exaggerations to me. It has only been as I’ve grown up, gone to school, and raised a family that I’ve come to understand what a heroic effort it was for Dad to make life seem so normal for all of us.”

Visit the Alumni website to learn more about opportunities to honour loved ones through bench and tree dedications. 

[Queen's Summerhill bench Howie Toda]
A new bench located near Summerhill is dedicated to Howie (Hisao) Toda (BSc’52). (Supplied Photo)

This story originally appeared on the Queen's University Alumni website.