Re: internment of Ukrainian Canadians
The Ukrainian Weekly
9 April 1988
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.
- 1. Between 1914 and 1920 the Canadian government interned
8,579 male "aliens of enemy nationality" including 99 Bulgarians,
205 Turks, 312 persons of "miscellaneous" origins, 2,009 Germans
(made up of 1,192 unnaturalized German residents of Canada and 817
German sailors and seamen captured in the Caribbean Sea), and 5,954
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.
- 2. Canadian-born Ukrainians, Ukrainians who had been
naturalized as British subjects (i.e., who had become Canadian
citizens) after emigrating from the Austrian crown lands of Galicia
and Bukovina, and all Ukrainian natives (naturalized and
unnaturalized) of the Russian Empire (Britain's and Canada's ally),
were not classified as "enemy aliens" nor were they interned at the
Canadian government's behest. They were not "stripped of their
rights" for the duration of the war, they were not "forced to
report regularly to the police," their families were not "uprooted,"
and "their farms and other possessions" were not "confiscated."
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.
- 3. Only those Ukrainians (and non Ukrainians) who had
emigrated from enemy states and were not naturalized British
subjects (i.e., those who were still Austrian, German, Turkish,
etc., nationals rather than Canadian citizens) were "branded 'enemy
aliens,'" required to report to the police if they lived within 20
miles of a major urban center, and subject to internment. There
were up to 70,000 Ukrainians in Canada who fell into this category
in 1914. The vast majority were young, single, migrant, male
frontier laborers (rather than agricultural settlers), who came to
Canada for a year or two with the hope of securing a job on
railroad construction, in the mines or in the forests, earning some
money, and then returning to the old country. By the summer of 1914
many of these men were unemployed as a result of the depression
that gripped Canada from the fall of 1913 until the summer of 1916.
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.
- 4. According to the 1907 Hague Convention, which
governed prisoner-of-war camps, including Canadian internment camps,
officers and civilians "of a standing considered to be equivalent
to the officer grade," were entitled to a higher standard of
accommodation and subsistence than men in the ranks and they could
not be compelled to perform physical labor. The Germans interned in
Canada tended to be officers, reserve officers and well-educated,
urban middle class commercial travellers. On the other hand,
Ukrainian internees were unlettered, migrant laborers of peasant
stock in the internment camps, which were located in the same parts
of Canada where Ukrainian frontier laborers usually earned a
living, they performed essentially the same type of back-breaking
labor that they had performed prior to internment.
- 5. Conditions varied from one internment camp to another,
but it is simply not true that all internees were obliged to labor
under harsh conditions or exposed to rough treatment by their
guards. Canadian historians who have studied internment agree that
Ukrainians interned at the remote and inaccessible camp in Castle
Mountain, near Banff, Alberta, were indeed abused and mistreated.
Yet, while there is some evidence of abuse in several of the other
camps, on the whole, Castle Mountain was an exception. A number of
Ukrainian internees have testified that they rarely exerted
themselves while they were interned. Ukrainian Catholic priests
visited several camps on a regular basis; reading clubs and
literacy classes were organized by internees in several of the
camps; interned craftsmen had plenty of time to carve picture
frames and to make violins; concerts and plays were staged; and it
was not uncommon for internees at Kapuskasing to spend the evening
hours singing and dancing the hopak and the kolomyika to the
accompaniment of a mandolin orchestra.
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.
- 6. Only internees in the camps, were paid "at a rate
equivalent to that of a soldier" (25 cents a day). Ukrainians and
other "Austrian" internees who were released on parole to work for
private companies (and virtually all Ukrainians had been paroled by
1917) were paid exactly "what they might have expected to make if
they had been able to offer their labor in the marketplace."
- 7. Although it is quite possible that a handful of
interned Ukrainian urban dwellers had "their valuables, real estate and
securities...seized" it should be borne in mind that the vast
majority of Ukrainian internees had little if any property to lose.
If they managed to save any money migrant laborers usually sent it
back home to their relatives in the old country. To the best of my
knowledge the greatest property losses were sustained by the
Ukrainian Social Democratic Party and one of its members, an
outspoken anti-war activist who had his printshop, press and
- 8. Federal and provincial authorities received relatively
few letters, petitions and memoranda from Ukrainian community
leaders protesting internment. Internment simply was not a major
issue within the Ukrainian Canadian community. Ukrainian Canadian
community leaders and the Ukrainian Canadian press preferred to
focus their energies on the preservation of bilingual public
schools (Ukrainian editors routinely compared AngloCanadian
critics of these institutions to "the Russian Black Hundred gangs")
and on overseas developments. It must be remembered that
"respectable" Ukrainian community leaders -- "intelligenty,"
businessmen, clerics and some homesteaders -- often looked upon
Ukrainian migrant laborers with contempt and embarrassment because
their intemperance and frequent fisticuffs brought "shame" upon
- 9. As for assurances "that Ukrainians were neither
'Austrians' nor supportive of the Austrian war effort," the
Canadian government had evidence to the contrary. Even if we
dismiss the appeal issued to Austrian military reservists by a
prominent Ukrainian Catholic cleric shortly before the war broke
out, we cannot dismiss the editorials and articles published in
several Ukrainian Canadian and Ukrainian American newspapers.
During the first 18 months of the war Ukrainian Canadian newspapers
(Kanadiyskyi Rusyn) and Ukrainian American newspapers (Svoboda)
which circulated in Canada published blatantly Austrophile and
Germanophile editorials and articles on a number of occasions.
Moreover, prominent Ukrainian Canadians maintained contacts with
pro-Austrian elements in Vienna and in Philadelphia.
- 10. Finally, comparisons between the Ukrainian Canadian
experience during World War I and the Japanese-Canadian experience
during World War II are, on the whole, inappropriate. Between 1914
and 1920 about 2 percent of Ukrainian Canadians, virtually all of
them unnaturalized propertyless, unemployed, single, male migrant
laborers were interned, for two or three years (1914-1917). in the
depths of an economic depression. Property losses (if indeed there
were any) were minimal, and at war's end all but a handful of
Social Democrats, who were interned between 1917 and 1919 and
deported for their alleged Bolshevik sympathies, were allowed to do
just as they pleased. They could settle in any Ukrainian Canadian
rural or urban colony, they could move to the United States, or
they could return to Galicia or Bukovina. For many Ukrainian Canadians,
especially naturalized rural settlers, the war years were a
period of unprecedented economic prosperity and cultural
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 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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