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Re: internment of Ukrainian Canadians

The Ukrainian Weekly
9 April 1988

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Internee working party, near Castle Mountain internment camp site, Alberta (Photo from the J. Anderson-Wilson Collection, courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies)

In a column published recently in The Ukrainian Weekly ("Faces and Places: A time for atonement in Canada," Sunday, March 5) Myron Kuropas repeats a number of allegations first made by Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk in his pamphlet " A Time for Atonement: Canada's First National Internment Operation and the Ukrainian Canadians 1914-1920" (Kingston, Ontario, 1988). Allow me to place this controversial issue in perspective for the benefit of your readers.

According to official reports the Austro-Hungarians included Croats, Serbs, Slovaks, Poles and Ukrainians. No one knows how many of the 5,954 Austro-Hungarians were Ukrainians because a complete list of internees has not been compiled. Historians simply assume that up to 5,000 of them were Ukrainians because a large majority of the Austro-Hungarian nationals in Canada were Ukrainians. These male internees were accompanied by 81 women and 156 children (of all nationalities) who accompanied the men voluntarily and who were provided with quarters and food in two of the 19 internment camps.

Only two qualifications have to be made with respect to Ukrainian immigrants who fall into any of these categories. First, a handful (and only a handful) were interned on the orders of ignorant and/or prejudiced local officials; almost invariably such persons were released once the appropriate authorities were notified. Second, Ukrainians and all immigrants born in enemy countries and naturalized after March 31, 1902, were deprived of the federal franchise between September 1917 and August 1919. However, they and their sons were simultaneously exempted from compulsory military service at the front.

Immediately after the outbreak of war many more were fired because "patriotic" employers and laborers refused to work with natives of enemy states. While some Ukrainian laborers responded to this turn of events by organizing street demonstrations, others headed for the American border in search of work. Robert Borden, the Canadian prime minister, was prepared to let these hungry and unemployed men enter the United States, but the Colonial Office in London insisted that Canada must detain all "aliens of enemy nationality." The British feared that many of these men, especially those who were military reservists, would drift back to Germany and Austria via the neutral United States. Hence the introduction of internment operations in Canada.

Thus the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian internees were young, single, propertyless, unemployed, unnaturalized migrant laborers. They were interned while trying to cross the American border or because municipal councils, which were unable or unwilling to provide relief for them, insisted that they represented a threat to civil order. It is necessary to bear in mind that for many of these men internment was the only alternative to starvation. There is evidence that at least some hungry and unemployed Ukrainian laborers sought to be interned and that they were not eager to be released from the internment camps.

Most of the 67 "Austrians" who perished were the victims of tuberculosis, contracted years earlier while they were still in the old country; others died during the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. Only one "Austrian," who may or may not have been a Ukrainian, committed suicide. And, for the sake of perspective, it is necessary to bear in mind that literally thousands of Ukrainian laborers, who were at liberty, were killed, maimed and mutilated during these years because their employers (railway and mining companies, etc.) were negligent and absolutely indifferent to the fate of their employees.

Between 1942 and 1946 more than 90 percent of Canada's Japanese population -- men, women and children; old and young; firm and infirm; employed and unemployed; Canadian-born, naturalized Canadian citizens, and Japanese nationals -- were in fact uprooted from their farms and businesses in British Columbia, separated from their loved ones, and forcibly resettled in ghost towns, in road construction camps and on farms owned by Occidentals. All of the property accumulated by Japanese Canadians in the course of 70 years -- everything from farms, houses and automobiles to radios and cameras -- was confiscated and auctioned off by the government at bargain-basement prices. Japanese Canadian institutions and organized cultural life ceased to exist. After the war Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return to their homes on the West Coast. They were obliged to choose between repatriation to war-ravaged Japan or forced dispersal all across Canada. At least 4,000 Japanese Canadians were repatriated to Japan.

Orest Martynowych

Orest Martynowych is a research associate at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He is currently writing a history of Ukrainians in Canada.

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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

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Originally Composed: Sunday September 22nd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.