Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

People

Contractors

Shigeo Sakiyama

Biography

Shigeo "Shig" Sakiyama was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, May 22, 1920, and grew up in Haney, B.C. The Sakiyama's had immigrated to Canada sometime between 1908 and 1910. Shig's father, Mokichi Sakiyama, served with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, Canadian Army, in France during the First World War, and his name is engraved on a monument in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

During the Second World War, the Sakiyamas were subjected to discriminatory policies that targeted people of Japanese ancestry in Canada. The accusation of being Japanese agents was a personal slight against the family, as Mokichi was a Canadian veteran of the First World War. These policies allowed for the confiscation of property and businesses owned by people of Japanese ancestry, only to be sold off by the Canadian government to finance the construction of internment camps. All people of Japanese ancestry were also forcibly relocated away from the west coast. Families were presented with two options: Relocate to internment camps in the British Columbia interior and Alberta (financed by the sale of their own property), or work as underpaid farm labour. Shig's family chose the latter option, as it allowed the family to stay together.

The Sakiyamas moved to Morris, Manitoba in 1942. The work was difficult, and their wages were low, but they soon made friends in the community. It was also at this time that Shig met his future wife, Kishino Sasaki, whose family was located in Letellier, Manitoba.

The Sakiyama's relocated to Winnipeg in 1947, where Shig spent a few years working different jobs. Shig and his brothers bought a logging truck, hauling logs from Red Lake, Ontario. In the late 1940s they went into carpentry, gaining experience, and working briefly for Brown's Construction Ltd. At the same time, the Sasakis moved back to British Columbia, buying back their boats, and resuming fishing.

Shig started his own firm, O.K. Builders Ltd., in the late 1940s. It was a family business, employing Shig's 3 brothers, a brother in law, and a sister. In the early 1950s, his brothers moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and start a firm that built custom homes, condominiums, and apartments, under the name Sakiyama Construction. Shig remained in Winnipeg and expanded OK Builders hiring several carpenters from Winnipeg's Japanese and German communities.

In the early 1950s, Shig built new homes on speculation. Shortly after, he began building custom homes, which were featured in Niakwa Park, Windsor Park, Westwood, St. Vital, and East Kildonan. During this time, the Sakiyamas moved often, first living in a home on St. Anne's Road until the flood of 1950. Subsequent family homes were built by Shig, including the homes on Portland Avenue, Melbourne Avenue, and 23 Mohawk Bay.

The home at 23 Mohawk Bay featured a modern open concept living room, dining room, and kitchen, with a vaulted ceiling and fireplace. His homes in Niakwa Park often made use of low-slope roofs and vaulted ceilings. The home at 12 Heather Road in Windsor Park was also featured in the 1960 Parade of Homes.

By the late 1960s, Shig's youngest son, Grant, was working on his construction sites. However, Shig, like many Japanese-Canadians who had endured the hardships of the 1940s, persuaded Grant to pursue post-secondary studies and avoid a life of manual labour. Grant completed a Bachelor of Science in microbiology at the University of Manitoba in 1972, working in his field briefly before earning an Industrial Education teaching certificate from Red River College. From there, he would teach drafting, design, and graphics, at Glenlawn Collegiate until 1986. Sometime in the 1960’s or early 1970’s, the company changed its name from O.K. Builders Ltd. to S. Sakiyama Construction. Throughout this period, the focus of the business changed as well, moving into residential and commercial renovations. Some projects during this time include renovations to the former Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation building at 870 Portage Avenue. Despite having a separate career, Grant continued to work alongside his father, and in the mid-1980s, he quit teaching to take over S. Sakiyama Construction.

In 1989, the company incorporated and changed its name to Sakiyama Construction Ltd. The company would take on larger projects, including the renovation of several different Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) locations. This work coincided with renovation of many homes. In order to manage this full schedule, the IGAs were renovated at night, while the homes were renovated during the day. The company moved towards more high-end home renovations, and resumed building custom homes in the 2000s.

Shig built his reputation on quality and innovative design. This reputation produced many returning clients, some working with the Sakiyamas on multiple projects over the course of more than four decades. Of course, this quality was only made possible by the company's skilled workforce. Shig was known for being a fair and respectful boss, which encouraged many workers to stay with the company (one as long as thirty-three years). Shig's construction business also proved to be highly adaptive, offering different services in order to work in changing markets.

Shigeo "Shig" Sakiyama passed away May 23, 1992. As of 2020, Sakiyama Construction Ltd. is still renovating homes, making it the sole surviving, as well as the longest running, construction company founded by Japanese Canadians in Winnipeg.

Projects

  • Sakiyama Home, 23 Mohawk Bay, 1955
  • Parade of Homes, 12 Heather Road, 1960
  • Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 870 Portage Avenue, 1990
  • 9 Victoria Crescent, 9 Victoria Crescent, c. 1970s

Photographs