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English \ Ukraine and the World \ About memory, not money: plaque laying at Edgewood to remember WWI internees

"The Edgewood plaque unveiling [October 24] is a continuation of what UCCLA began many years ago. We’re determined to finish off what started, we owe that to all of the internees, Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike, whose story might otherwise have been completely forgotten if we had not acted when we did."

October 21, 2009
Keith Powell

Ukrainian Canadians wrongfully interned during the First World War are being honoured this coming Saturday at a plaque laying in Edgewood, where one of the 24 internment camps once found across Canada was set up by the federal government under the authority of the now-notorious War Measures Act.

"The first commemorative plaque we unveiled was at Fort Henry in Kingston, in 1994, fittingly given that was where Canada's first permanent internment camp was established in the First World War," said Dr. Lubomyr

Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada who has also taught at Queen’s University, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and at universities in South Africa and Turkey. He's the author of over a dozen books and is a frequent commentator on CBC and BBC, specializing in the political geography of Eastern Europe and the ethnic and immigration history of Canada. "Our twenty first plaque will be installed at Edgewood, then we hope to place the 22nd at Montreal, the 23rd in Lethbridge and finally the last one, our 24th, at The Citadel, in Halifax.


Wooden shells affi xed with a tent covering served as quarters for offi cers and soldiers in this 1915 internment camp at Edgewood.

Photo Contributed by the Arrow Lakes Historical Society

We're symbolically ending our campaign for recognition in a major port city where many immigrants arriving in this country first set foot."

Luciuk says the Ukranian Canadian Civil Liberties Association initiated a campaign to place a trilingual plaque at each of the 24 locations to recall what happened during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920. An internment camp operated at Edgewood from August 19, 1915 to September 23, 1916. Not only did the internees loose their freedom and what little wealth they had, but their labour was exploited for the benefit of their jailers. "The internees were housed in bunk houses and were employed in hard-labour, including road building, drainage, cutting down trees and brush, that sort of thing. Keep in mind that these were civilians who'd come to Canada expecting to find freedom and free land, who had done nothing wrong yet found themselves described as 'enemy aliens,' then herded together in camps and forced to do heavy labour even though that was prohibited by existing international laws governing the treatment of Prisoners of War. The Canadian government and various private concerns nevertheless used these people as a pool of convenient labour, benefitting from their forced labour.'

The background of those interned varied, from former residents of the Ottoman Turkish Empire to those who had come from the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, including Croatians, Serbians, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Ukrainians as well as some genuine German and Austrian German POWs.

Professor Luciuk noted that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a major source for immigrants to Canada before the First World War. When the war broke out these 'Austro-Hungarian citizens' were at first reassured that they had nothing to fear, provided only that they went about their normal business and were not disloyal. Soon thereafter however, as a result of wartime xenophobia and prejudice, the passage of the War Measures Act would be used to round up and confine several thousand while many thousands of others were forced to register as 'enemy aliens' and report regularly to the police. That very same War Measures Act would be used again against Japanese Canadians, Italian Canadians and others during the Second World War and against the Quebecois in 1970.

While no survivors of these internment camps remain alive today Luciuk says the symbolic restitution secured after nearly a quarter of a century of lobbying and educational effort on the part of UCCLA and its supporters does mean a lot to the internees' descendants and to the Ukrainian Canadian community. In May, 2008, the Government of Canada established a $10 million fund which Luciuk described as 'symbolic restitution' given that the actual value of the internees' confiscated wealth and labour would have been several times greater in value than the amount received. "But we weren't looking for money," he explained. "We never asked for individual compensation to survivors. We always talked about symbolic redress. Our campaign, as one of the last victims, Mary Manko Haskett, once said, was always about memory, not money."

The $10 million has placed in a trust with the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko with the interest earned on the principal being dedicated to commemorative, educational and cultural projects having to do with Canada's first national internment operations. Any Canadian individual or group is eligible for a grant (

Meanwhile UCCLA continues with its own independent efforts, begun in 1994, hopefully to be concluded by 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Dr. Luciuk explained, "The Edgewood plaque unveiling is a continuation of what UCCLA began many years ago. We're determined to finish off what started, we owe that to all of the internees, Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike, whose story might otherwise have been completely forgotten if we had not acted when we did."

Dr. Luciuk will be in attendance at the plaque unveiling as will the Conservative MP for the Dauphin-Swan Lake-Marquette riding of Manitoba, Inky Mark, who drafted and helped ensure that Bills C-331(Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act) and Bill C-333 dealing with Chinese Canadian Head Tax issue, were addressed by Parliament. Members of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund's endowment council will also be in attendance, as will Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy. "I'm looking forward to being in Edgewood on Oct. 14 and attending this unveiling. [I] am very happy to join with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ukrainian Community of B.C. and the community of Edgewood in honour of this historical event," says Conroy. "The presentation of this plaque will ensure that the contributions of the Ukrainian Canadians and other Europeans interned in such an unacceptable way are remembered."

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