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Apology to Ukrainian Canadians Urged

The Globe and Mail
22 December 1984

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Winnipeg (CP) -- If Japanese Canadians receive redress for their internment during the Second World War, some Ukrainian Canadians say their people should at least receive an apology for similar treatment during the First World War.

When the Japanese raise this question and the Canadian Government is prepared to express this king of apology, "absolutely the events should be mentioned of the first war when Ukrainians suffered very much the same." says Michael Marunchak, a Ukrainian historian, scholar and author living in Winnipeg.

Japanese Canadians have been pressing their case with success, but it is a different story for 8,000 people, most of them immigrants from the Western Ukraine, who were confined for at least part of the First World War in camps like one in Brandon, Man., at the old Wheat City Arena, and in Winnipeg.

Part of the problem may be that there are few survivors and still fewer willing to discuss their internment. Also, many documents that described mistreatment and harsh conditions have been mislaid or destroyed.

But Mr. Marunchak and Jaroslav Rozumnyj, a professor of Slavic studies at the University of Manitoba, say the facts should be brought out.

"This is something this country should never have done," says Mr. Rozumnyj.

While there is no evidence that Ukrainians lost land and businesses as the Japanese did when they were interned about 25 years later, they did lose some personal property and some even lost their lives.

Andrew Grapko, 18, was shot to death in June, 1915, while trying to escape from the Brandon camp. He was one of six people across the country killed while trying to escape.

About 100 died of illness. So many contracted tuberculosis that a special hospital had to be established.

The harsh treatment was double ironic. Despite allegiances on paper between their homeland and Austria, which prompted the action, most Ukrainians who had come to Canada where refugees form the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The first of the 24 camps built across the country was set up in Montreal in 1914. The largest was located at Kapuskasing, Ont., where 1,200 prisoners rioted in 1916 and many were injured. About 800 were kept in the Brandon camp.

In 1916, to provide employees for factories drained of staff by the war effort, about 6,000 were released after signing loyalty oaths and promising to report to police.

The camps didn't disappear when the war ended in 1918. They remained in operation until 1920 to house people the government considered politically undesirable. They cost about $3.2 million to run, a considerable sum for a government to spend at the time.

Edmonton historian Peter Melnycky has done some research on the subject and says the internment camps became the last stop for many unemployed Ukrainians wandering the country.

"I think it must have been a terribly traumatizing experience," he says. "It says a lot for them that they didn't give up the dreams that they had."

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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

We acknowledge the help in the preparation of this document by Amanda Anderson

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Originally Composed: Thursday September 19th 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.