Many people are aware of the Japanese Internment Camps in the United States during World War Two. Internment camps, however, were not new to history during that conflict. During World War One, the Canadian government had established internment camps for enemy aliens.
Who was considered an enemy alien? The bulk were Ukrainians (referred to at the time as Bukovynians, Galicians and Ruthenians), but the group also included Germans, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews and Turks. These groups were thought to be sympathetic to the German and Austro-Hungarian war efforts.
Members of these ethnicities were forced to register under the War Measures Act and then report regularly to police or local authorities. They also were forced to carry identification papers. Those who refused, tried to leave the country, or were suspected of being dangerous were interned.
According to the act, “No person who is held for deportation under this Act or under any regulation made thereunder, or is under arrest or detention as an alien enemy, or upon suspicion that he is an alien enemy, or to prevent his departure from Canada, shall be released upon bail or otherwise discharged or tried, without the consent of the Minister of Justice.”
The Camps Open
The camps opened early in the war. There were 24 camps spread throughout Canada. The majority of the inmates were men, but in two camps families were imprisoned. Wives and children had no choice but to follow the head of household into imprisonment.
When a person entered the camps, all their possessions and property were confiscated by the government.
Prisoners were required to do menial work such as cutting firewood. Other men were employed in construction or the railroad; they earned 25 cents a day.
Eighty-thousand people were registered, and 8,529 were interned along with 237 women and children. More than 5,000 of the interned were Ukrainian.
Sometimes there were riots. More often, there was disease and despair. Insanity and suicide were common.
Prisoners weren’t allowed access to newspapers and their correspondence was censored.
The Camps Close
Conditions varied greatly from camp to camp and by social class. Most of the interned, those in first class, were housed in comfortable conditions. Those categorized as Galicians, Ruthenians and Greek Catholic faced worse. Their camps were in areas that experience harsh weather, and they did forced labor.
Most internment camps were closed in 1916 when a labor shortage forced the government to release those imprisoned. A few, however, remained open until the war ended.
Those who were released continued to be registered.
The irony is that Ukrainians were recruited to Canada in the prewar years to farm the prairie provinces. They also joined the Canadian army when war broke out. Those who were discovered, were expelled from military service.
In 1917, the War Time Elections Act disenfranchised Ukrainians. The following year, Ukrainian language newspapers were made illegal.
After the war, several Ukrainians were deported, having been suspected of communism.
Today, Ukrainian Canadians hope this tragic part of history is not forgotten. They are asking for the government to admit its wrongdoing and compensate family members for losses.
Were you aware of this part of history. Leave a comment below.
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