Not many people know that over 8,000 Ukrainians were interned during the First World War between 1914 and 1920 here in Canada. As part of the War Measures Act an additional 80,000+ individuals were registered as “enemy aliens.” My father had never heard about it, and his father and grandfather were alive during that time. There are several websites devoted to the whys and wherefores of what happened. Links to more info is at the end of this entry.
Since the 1920s, the Canadian government has been very quiet about what happened. Internment records were destroyed in the 1950s. Only recently, through painstaking research by many individuals, a roll call of names has been compiled. I was not expecting anyone from my tree to be on that list, but I have never been more relieved to note the absence of any familiar names.
Not until 2005 was Bill C-331 The Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act passed in the Canadian Parliament. The purpose of the act is “to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and other Europeans who were interned at the time of the First World War and to provide for public commemoration and for restitution which is to be devoted to education and the promotion of tolerance.”
So the Canadian Government finally admitted its boo-boo, but this is a hollow victory. Many of the internees were used for forced labour. Did you know that one of these labour camps contributed to the creation of Banff National Park? In fact it was considered by many to be exceptionally harsh and abusive. Although you can argue that it was a reaction to the war in Europe, that doesn’t explain why the internment continued for TWO YEARS after the war had ended. The reason? Federal and provincial governments and private companies profited from the forced labour, not only in Banff, but also in the logging industry in Northern Ontario and Quebec, the steel mills in Ontario and Nova Scotia and in the mines in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
It saddens me to think that after leaving horrible political conditions in Europe, sacrificing everything in some cases to emigrate to Canada, and enduring harsh winters on the prairies that their new country would indiscriminately paint them all with an intolerant, racist brush. From what I’ve learned of my Canadian-Ukrainian ancestors, and other Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada at the turn of the last century, they were a very peaceful, hard-working, gentle people who would protect their family and their land with force only when necessary. Many even enlisted to fight for Canada in the First World War.
Because of Bill C-331 there are monuments and plaques across Canada commemorating the internment. Finally, in May 2008 the Canadian government established a $10 million fund with the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko to commemorate the experience of thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans that were interned between 1914 - 1920 and the suspension of civil liberties of tens of thousands of fellow Canadians.
Why a blog?
Family history just fascinates me. And not just my own. There are many facts and people that have been lost to time. I really enjoy puzzles and sometimes I come across some really interesting mysteries in my genealogy travels. I'll post some of my musings here.