Mary Manko Haskett, the last known survivor of Canada's first national internment operations, in Ottawa, March 1993 (Photo by Tom Hanson, courtesy of CP Photo)
I am eighty-five years old. Nothing unusual about that. What makes me different from other seniors is that I am the last known survivor of Canada's first national internment operations. I was one of thousands of Ukrainian Canadians rounded up as "enemy aliens" and put in concentration camps between 1914-1920. This happened in Canada. You probably never heard about it.
I was six years old then. I was an innocent. And I was innocent of any wrongdoing. And just like me, Canada's Ukrainians were not disloyal. Our imprisonment was wrong.
I was born in Canada. I lived in Montreal with my parents, brother John, and sisters Anne and Carolka, or Nellie, as we called her. Nellie was also born in Quebec. She was just two and a half years old when we buried her, near the Spirit Lake internment camp.
I would like to go back and visit Nellie's grave, one last time. But I'm told it's no longer there. Her body was moved. Why, or when, or how, I don't know. No one seems to know where she rests. My parents are buried in Mississaugua, near where I live. Someday I'll be buried beside them. I wish Nellie could be with us. But that will never be. Ottawa interned our family together in life. In death Ottawa will keep us apart.
Until I read about their efforts, in the Globe and Mail in the fall of 1988, I did not know anything about the Ukrainian-Canadian community's campaign to get Ottawa to acknowledge that an injustice had been done and to secure some form of symbolic redress. When I saw that article I was happy. Finally, I was able to prove to my children and grandchildren that what I had told them was true. Before then, whenever I said I had been interned in Canada, they had trouble believing me. Spirit Lake is no longer shown on any map. And Canada's historians haven't written about this country's First World War internment operations. It's as if it all didn't happen.
Perhaps Canada's historians don't think that what happened to me, and the others, mattered. But it did. We were born here. We were Canadians. We had done nothing wrong. And those who, like my parents, had come from Ukraine to Canada came seeking freedom. They were invited here. They worked hard. They contributed to this country, with their blood, sweat and tears. A lot of the latter.
So I'll say it again. What was done to us was wrong. And, because no one bothered to remember or learn about the wrong that was done to us, it was done to others again, and yet again. Maybe there's an even greater wrong in that.
In the past few years I've done what I could to set the record straight. I've leant my name in support of those in the Ukrainian-Canadian community who, for nearly 10 years now, have sought justice. I've been impressed by their commitment and perseverance, mostly because none of them had any personal reason for getting involved. It's not as if their parents, or grandparents, had been interned. No one in their families endured what I did, nor did they even know anyone who had. I guess the reason they kept at it all these years was because they understand, as Canadians, why this episode in this nation's history must never be forgotten. Our campaign has been joined by friends from various Canadian ethnocultural communities, by a few MPs, professors, artists, lawyers and others. I'd like to thank them for their help and say that I'm sorry we haven't seen justice done, yet.
Once I really believed that I would see justice in my time. If a person put the facts before the public I thought Ottawa would do what is right. I am sorry, but that has not happened. Although a few good women and men in Parliament, from all three parties there before the last election, met me when I went up the Hill last March, neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Multiculturalism would even greet me. I do not know why.
But someone did notice. He wasn't a politician. He was a veteran of the Great War. He phoned and explained that he had never known what had happened to people like me in Canada, while he was away in the trenches fighting for this country. He said he'd do anything he could now to help me. There's nothing he can do, but I am glad he called. His kindness gives me hope. He understands.
Today there is a new government in Ottawa. And I am a year older. I've decided to write this because I'm not sure whether the people who told Mr Mulroney and Mr Weiner to ignore me aren't the very same advisors who will now tell Prime Minister Chretién and Ms Finestone to do the same thing. I hope not. I've heard tell that there are some in Ottawa who hope that, once I'm gone, the government will be able to ignore the community's claims because the last surviving witness will be gone. I hope that's not true. I pray all parties in the House of Commons will do what is honourable and resolve this issue, in my time. They can if they want to.
But I recognize that my time is running out. So, just in case, I'm going to leave this statement behind. The officials who think they can deal with this issue by ignoring me will probably outlive me. But they won't outlive my testament.
Mary Manko Haskett is the honourary chairwoman of the National Redress Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a survivor of the Spirit Lake, Quebec internment camp.
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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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Originally Composed: Wednesday December 4th 1996.
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