Honouring Our Heros: the Life of Thomas Shoyama

Thomas Shoyama was one of Canada’s most respected civil servants, who helped create the universal health care system as a deputy minister for Tommy Douglas. His career sprang from humble beginnings in Kamloops to the most senior level of government service in Saskatchewan, and later, managing key portfolios for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

A 1938 UBC Grad, “Tommy” served as Editor of the New Canadian newspaper from 1939-45. Tom wrote:

“Our people were filled with such great feeling of fear, dread, bitterness, anger, and resentment. And we all wondered what the future held for us. To try to create some stability and to try to fill in that huge gap of the unknown was the role of our newspaper.”

“It was very important to do everything we could to sustain morale. We had to tell people: Look, in spite of all these terrible things that have happened to you, stand on your own feet. Look within yourself to your own strength and self-respect and your own sense of dignity.”

Tom Shoyama enlisted in the Southeast Asia Command unit of the Canadian Army Intelligence Corps in 1945 before the war ended. Like a true leader, Tom gracefully and fearlessly enlisted in defense of the values he espoused in his editorials. After discharge, in 1946, he joined the Government of Saskatchewan Economic and Planning Board and by 1950, he became Cabinet’s Chief Economic Advisor and Tommy Douglas’ closest policy advisor until he moved to Ottawa in 1964.

For 16 years in Ottawa, Tom held various Finance portfolios for the Pearson and Trudeau Federal Liberal Governments, and was called upon after retirement to advise the MacDonald Royal Commission from 1982-85.

His profound and abiding commitment to public service has been recognized through several national awards, including Officer of the Order of Canada (1978), Outstanding Achievement Award in the Public Service of Canada (1978), The Vanier Medal in Public Administration (1982), Order of the Sacred Treasure in recognition of his contributions to the Japanese-Canadian community in 1992.

The Thomas Shoyama Lifetime Achievement Award

The Thomas Shoyama Lifetime Achivement Award is awarded to an individual who has played a foundational role in their life as a leader in Canada and in the Japanese and Japanese Canadian community. These individuals exemplify integrity and dedication in their community work and lead with values aligned to that of the Nikkei community: honesty, integrity, perseverance and selflessness.

Joy Kogawa


Henry Wakabayashi


Gordon Kadota
Arthur S. Hara
Dr. David Suzuki