Rebel With a Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story by Bretton Loney

As I work in the medical profession, I find books with medical content interesting. However this book has another angle to it that intrigued me: the forced internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Young Harry Nikaido was attending medical school at the University of Toronto in 1942 when Japanese-Canadians living in coastal BC were stripped of all they owned and moved inland, either to interment camps or labour camps. His family was fortunate enough to be allowed to move to Toronto, where Harry and two of his sibling were already living. However, they still lost everything aside from the clothes on their back.

The government’s believing that Canadians of Japanese descent were a threat to national security leads to the ‘rebel with a cause’ part of the title. Halifax author Bretton Loney explores the background of Doc Nikaido and how his life was a rebellion on several fronts throughout his brief life, which was mainly lived in the author’s hometown of Bow Island, Alberta.

“Harry practised medicine for love and not for money. He needed the people of Bow Island as much as they needed him” – Dr. J.H. Toogood (a U of T classmate)

Doc’s primary form of rebellion was his refusal to pay income tax to the Canadian government. “Why should I pay those sons of bitches any money after what they took from my family?” he once asked of a friend. Until his death at age 55, he rarely paid taxes (or filed a return), and neither was he actively pursued to do so by the government. The book speculates that it may be because of the forced removal of his parents from their BC home (a black mark for the government and a can of worms, just waiting to be opened) along with his respected stature in the community that Doc wasn’t bothered a lot by government agents. Besides, Doc didn’t have that much money because he charged very little for his services (this was before Medicare) if anything at all. Sometimes he traded services for goods. Cheques given to him remained uncashed. He essentially lived off the Bow island community (eating, watching TV and often sleeping in their various homes) and Bow islanders were happy (for the most part, it seems) to humour him because he rendered such an essential service for them.

The book abounds with accounts of how Doc served Bow Island, how he was always available (no pagers in those days, either) and how he saved many lives by practically knowing the health of most everyone in the small community.

Despite a dearth of personal information on Doc (no diaries, personal papers, photos etc.) Mr. Loney has crafted a labour of love by researching newspaper archives, interviewing friends of Doc, his former colleagues and other Bow Islanders to round out a humorous, touching and a thoroughly interesting biography of this lovable, colourful character.

Rebel with a Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story (2015, Friesen Press) by Bretton Loney is available from FriesenPress.com and Amazon.ca.

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