Religious ceremony of the Ukrainian Canadians interned at Fort Henry, Kingston. (Photo by L. Luciuk, December 1990).
From the yard outside the old stone walls of Fort Henry, a cold wind from Lake Ontario blew in a chorus of children's laughter. Almost oblivious to the elements their happy voices rose and fell while they collected wood in mock preparation for a bitter Kingston winter.
In a small room inside the garrison a group commemorating the incarceration of hundreds of Ukrainian Canadians at Fort Henry and elsewhere during the First World War listened to that sound yesterday and remarked at its irony.
"It's fitting that our children - our future leaders - learn about the past," said Ihor Bardyn chairman of the Ukrainian Redress Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. "The sound of their laughter recalls pleasant aspects, but we also have to recall the dreadful and unjust part of our past."
Mr. Bardyn was addressing a memorial service to remember the internment operations imposed upon Canadians of Ukrainian origin during the First World War
"The internment must be recorded in our history," he said. "There is no record of this in our history books. This is part of the reason the redress committee is on a lonely mission to right that injustice - so that, hopefully, it will be put to rest forever and will never be repeated."
Lubomyr Luciuk, an assistant geography professor at Queen's University and a Ukrainian Redress Committee member, says that approximately 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians were imprisoned in 26 internment camps during the First World War.
There are no records of exactly how many of them were incarcerated at Fort Henry but he said that a survivor of the 1914 to 1918 internment confirmed that "a few dozen" were held there.
Mr. Luciuk explained that the redress committee isn't looking for a simple cash settlement from the federal government but is asking for several things: acknowledgement that what happened was unwarranted and unjust; that historical plaques be erected at appropriate sites, as well as the reconstruction of the Castle Mountain internment camp in Alberta; and that the 1988 Emergencies Act be amended to ensure that no other Canadian ethnic religious or racial minorities be subjected to injustices similar to those suffered by Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War.
To commemorate the one and only year the Fort Henry prisoners were allowed to erect a Christmas tree during their incarceration, the organizers of yesterday's memorial lit a Ukrainian Christmas tree and asked two Ukrainian Catholic priests and one Ukrainian Orthodox priest to say mass.
A piece of barbed wire from the Castle Mountain internment camp was placed on the altar by the redress committee to symbolize the prisoners' unjust confinement.
Attending on behalf of the City of Kingston Ald. George Stoparczyk said that there was still time for atonement even though the imprisonment took place so long ago.
Mr. Stoparczyk said that the victims were "caught in a net of fear and ignorance" and hoped that one day the government "will one day redress the injustices against all victims."
Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands Peter Milliken did not attend but sent a letter to Mr. Bardyn expressing his hope that the committee will one day obtain redress for the prisoners.
"The preservation of freedom requires vigilance," wrote Mr. Milliken. "This service reminds us of the need for that vigilance, and it is in a way the price of the freedom we all cherish for ourselves and our descendants."
New Democratic Party MP for Vancouver East Margaret Mitchell also sent a letter of support for the redress committee, referring to the place where Ukrainian Canadians were imprisoned as the "Fort Henry concentration camp."
While the federal government has done well in settling the Japanese Canadian internment issue, has apologized to Italian Canadians and recognized the injustices suffered by Ukrainian Canadians, she wrote that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney "should act quickly to formally apologize to Ukrainian Canadians, Italian Canadians and Chinese Canadians in Parliament on behalf of all parties."
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Document URL: http://www.infoukes.com/history/internment/booklet02/doc-059.html
Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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Originally Composed: Tuesday December 3rd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.