Barbed Wire

Waiting, and hoping for redress

Written by Rudy Platiel

The Globe and Mail
27 March 1993

Barbed Wire

In the distant memory of childhood, Canadian-born Mary Haskett, 84, can still recall the death of her two-year-old sister in an internment camp guarded by Canadian soldiers in the Quebec bush.

Mrs. Haskett, of Mississauga, is the last known survivor of the First World War roundup of about 5,000 Ukrainian-Canadian men and their families, an episode that has disappeared so completely from public consciousness and the public record that for many years even her own children refused to believe her.

"They wouldn't believe I was in a prison camp," Mrs. Haskett said. "I tried to make them believe that I wasn't making things up."

On Monday, she will be part of a delegation from the Redress Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which will meet members of Parliament in Ottawa to plead for public acknowledgement of the injustice while there is still at least one survivor alive to hear it.

In 1914, six-year-old Mary Manko - Mrs. Haskett - her sister, brother and parents were one of many Ukrainian-Canadian families in Montreal and across the country rounded up by authorities because their roots were in the Ukraine - parts of which were controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was at war with the Allies. The Mankos were sent to Spirit Lake in Northern Quebec, where a rudimentary camp was built in the bush. It was there in 1915 that her two-year-old sister, Carolka, fell ill and died.

"She was never given any medical help or anything. My mother looked after her as best she could," Mrs. Haskett said in a recent interview.

"I remember seeing my sister laid out on the table. Her eyes weren't shut and my mother put two coppers in her eyes to shut them."

After the war, the Mankos eventually moved to Toronto, where Mary's father, Andrew, and mother, Katherine, operated a grocery store.

Years later, after she married, Mrs. Haskett tried to tell her young children about her experience, but they would not believe her.

Her daughter, Frances Haskett, said she, her two brothers and sister kept looking for Spirit Lake in Northern Ontario but were unable to find any mention. Even if they had looked in Quebec, the name Spirit Lake had long disappeared from its maps.

And there was certainly nothing in school history books to indicate there had ever been an internment of Ukrainians in Canada.

"We thought it couldn't possibly have happened," says Frances Haskett. "We thought that maybe it might have been some story that mother heard from the old country."

Then at Christmas in 1988, a Ukrainian friend gave Mrs. Haskett a booklet written by Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of geography at the Royal Military College in Kingston, who had been researching the internment since 1979.

"I was just horrified when I read it," said Frances Haskett. "I was just devastated to think that after all those years, there was proof of Spirit Lake. I felt so sad for Mom."

The family has learned that Carolka is buried in a parish cemetery in nearby Amos, Que. An agricultural college now stands on the site of the old internment camp.

Mrs. Haskett is honorary chairwoman of the redress council, and among those who are lending their names as honorary supporters are social activist June Callwood, lawyer Clayton Ruby, Parliamentarian Stanley Knowles, national Indian leader Ovide Mercredi, broadcaster Vicki Gabereau and author Barry Broadfoot.

But Monday's pleas from the council will be made against a backdrop of behind-the-scenes internal fighting among the Ukrainian-Canadian community and concerns that the federal Conservative government is contemplating a quick "omnibus apology" that would combine acknowledgement of the Ukrainian internment with that of other grievances, such as imposition of a discriminatory head tax on Chinese immigrants earlier this century.

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, founded by former members of a redress commission that had operated through the Winnipeg-based Ukrainian Canadian Congress, has been long regarded as the official voice of the community.

But a split ensued, and now the two groups are at odds. The congress executive has circulated a letter among members of Parliament and senators advising them that the association doesn't represent the Ukrainian-Canadian community. The association circulated a rebuttal.

Prof. Luciuk says it was members of the former redress commission - not congress officials - who have consistently pushed the redress issue since 1986 and they are challenging the idea that the congress alone represents the diverse Ukrainian-Canadian community.

He said that the association's redress council is putting four requests to the government a "public acknowledgement of what happened," changes to Canada's 1988 Emergencies Act so that it could never happen again, a reversal of Parks Canada's refusal to erect historical markers about the internment, and negotiations for some form of "symbolic redress."

Prof. Luciuk said the redress could take the form of a community development fund, and emphasized that the council is asking only for a public acknowledgement, "not an apology."

The issue has been before the federal government since October of 1988, he said, and federal officials have indicated that it is now being considered in the cabinet.

The council and other organizations - such as the Chinese-Canadian group pressing the issue of the head tax - want to be dealt with individually. But, Prof. Luciuk said, from comments made by federal officials, they now fear that just before calling an election, the cabinet may suddenly announce a blanket apology covering all, putting the groups in a position of looking ungrateful if they offer any protest.

Council members have always wanted the redress issue to be non-partisan. But Prof. Luciuk said both Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Multiculturalism Minister Gerry Weiner have turned down requests to see them on Monday, and he fears this indicates that the "kind of gamesmanship that was played out" for years with the Japanese Canadians' requests on their internment issue "is being repeated again here."

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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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Copyright © 1996-1997 InfoUkes Inc.


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Originally Composed: Tuesday December 3rd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.