Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

People

Contractors

Mickey Kojima

Biography

Mickey Kojima was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1926. His father was a logger, and the family lived in Royston near Cumberland, on Vancouver Island. Mickey was 15 years old at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The BC and Canadian governments used the event as an opportunity to remove the vibrant community of Japanese Canadians that lived, worked and played in BC in 1941. Along with others on Vancouver Island, the family was relocated, on two days’ notice, to Hastings Park in Vancouver. They were held in detention there for six months. From there, they were taken to Tashme, an internment camp 14 miles east of Hope, BC.

Following the war, the Kojimas had an interest in returning to Japan, in part because Mickey's father still owned property there. Mickey, a young man, was not interested in going to Japan, and persuaded his family to stay in Canada. Like many released from Tashme, Mickey’s family went to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where a former air force base had been converted into cheap lodging, and from there, to Sanford, Manitoba where work could be found on the Canadian Pacific Railway yards.

Mickey moved to Sanford briefly, until moving to Winnipeg's Kildonan neighbourhood. Finding accommodations was difficult, as post-war racism persisted. His first summer in Winnipeg, Mickey was offered work unloading cordwood by a passer-by. The work was unpleasant, and Mickey quit after his first day. While walking along near Portage Avenue and Main Street, Mickey saw a garage. He offered his services and was eventually hired. He soon recruited several other members of Winnipeg's Japanese community to work at the garage. Mickey started classes to become a mechanic, only to be told that it was unpleasant work and to pursue other options.

In 1949, Mickey stumbled across an advertisement in Popular Mechanics for an electrical technology course in Chicago, Illinois. He bussed to Chicago, only to discover that the school in question was closed due to a teachers' strike. The strikers informed Mickey that classes would resume soon, a stroke of good luck. He would take up work producing name plates for a wholesaler, working 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm weekdays to pay for his room and board, and took his classes during the day. After completing the 1-year course, Mickey moved back to Winnipeg, working at Sargent Electric and Radio at 609 Sargent Avenue. In 1960, Art Goodman approached Mickey to propose starting their own company. The two would contemplate different names for the company, settling on Goodman & Kojima. A family friend, a teacher, loaned them $10,000 to get the business started.

Goodman & Kojima become the go-to electricians for Winnipeg's Japanese builders, but Mickey didn't want to rely solely on them to support his business. Instead, he called builders he had worked alongside at West Hawk Lake during his time at Sargent Electric and Radio. He also worked for Smith Agency, a property management company that gave Mickey work in exchange for an insurance policy. Their first job with a Japanese builder was Goodwill Radio, which was designed by Henry Takatsu, a draft-person from Pratt Lindgren Snider Tomcej and Associates.

Henry Takatsu also helped design Mickey's home. The design was selected by Mickey himself out of a magazine, which would send the blueprints for $20 USD. Henry Takatsu drew up a basement, as the original design did not have one. Henry Kuwada, a Japanese builder, would see Mickey's plans, and offered to build the house. In order to afford the home, Mickey withdrew his $5,000 life insurance policy. The home featured a swooping roofline with cedar shingles, reminiscent of traditional homes in Japan. The government of Ed Schreyer was advocating for electrical heating in housing, and City Hydro give Mickey a rebate in return for using his new, electrically-heated renewable energy house, as a display home.

One of Goodman & Kojima's more interesting partners was Mizawa Construction, a Japan-based developer that had expanded into Canada. The firm relied on Mickey as they built their new factory for pre-fabricated homes near Gimli, Manitoba.

A close friendship existed between Mickey and Roy Murata of Fuji Builders, although Goodman & Kojima also worked alongside other Japanese builders, including Hiro Hashimoto, Ben Hashimoto, Henry Kuwada, Tom Shimoji, and Ken Teramura. Goodman & Kojima worked on a majority of their projects.

Projects

  • Kojima Home, 14 Cambrian Crescent, 1972
  • Residence of the Consul General of Japan, 460 Wellington Crescent, 1976
  • Thunderbird Apartments, 2150 Portage Avenue, 1958