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Commemorative plaque and a statue entitled Why?, by John Boxtel, at the location of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp, Banff National Park.

The Ukrainian Canadian internment was part of the confinement of "enemy aliens" in Canada during and for two years after the end of the First World War, lasting from 1914 to 1920. About 5,000 Ukrainian men of Austro-Hungarian citizenship were kept in twenty-four internment camps and related work sites, also known, at the time, as concentration camps. Many were released in 196 to help with the mounting labour shortage in the Prairie provinces. Another 80,000 were registered as "enemy aliens" and obliged to regularly report to the police. Those interned had whatever little wealth they owned confiscated.



During the First World War, a growing sentiment against "enemy aliens" had manifested itself amongst Canadians. The British government urged Canada not to act indiscriminately against subject nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were in fact friendly to the British Empire.[1] However, Ottawa took a hard line. These enemy-born citizens were treated as social pariahs, and many lost their employment. Under the 1914 War Measures Act, "aliens of enemy nationality" were compelled to register with authorities. About 70,000 Ukrainians from Austro-Hungary fell under this description. 8,579 males were interned by the Canadian Government, including 5,954 Austro-Hungarians, most of whom were probably ethnic Ukrainians.[2] Most of the interned were poor or unemployed single men, although 81 women and 156 children (mainly Germans in Vernon and Ukrainians at Spirit Lake) had no choice but to accompany their menfolk to two of the camps, in Spirit Lake, near Amos, Quebec, and Vernon, British Columbia. Some of the internees were Canadian-born and others were naturalized British subjects, although most were recent immigrants. Citizens of the Russian Empire were not interned.

Many of these internees were used for forced labour in internment camps.[3] Conditions at the camps varied, and the Castle Mountain Internment Camp, where labour contributed to the creation of Banff National Park, was considered exceptionally harsh and abusive.[4] The internment continued for two more years after the war had ended, although most Ukrainians were paroled into jobs for private companies by 1917. Even as parolees, they were still required to report regularly to the police authorities. Federal and provincial governments and private concerns benefitted from the internee's labour and from the confiscation of what little wealth they had, a portion of which was left in the Bank of Canada at the end of the internment operations, 20 June 1920.[5] A small number of internees, including men considered to be "dangerous foreigners," labour radicals, or particularly troublesome internees, were deported to Europe after the war, largely from the Kapuskasing camp, which was the last to be shut down.

Of those interned, 109 died of various diseases and injuries sustained in the camp, six were killed while trying to escape, and some, according to Sir William Dillon Otter's final report, went insane or committed suicide as a result of their confinement.


Commemorative stone at the Saskatchewan Railway Museum, formerly Eaton Siding near the Eaton Internment Camp, one of twenty-four, where 8,579 civilians were interned. It reads “Fortitude. To the memory of those who were interned at this site during the Great War. Eaton Internment Camp 1919.”

Since 1985, the organized Ukrainian-Canadian community sought official acknowledgment for WWI internment, conducting a campaign that underscored the moral, legal and political obligation to redress the historical wrong.[6] The campaign included the memorializaiton of places of internment as historic sites. Currently there are twenty plaques and memorials across Canada commemorating the internment, including two at the locations of former concentration camps in Banff National Park. These have been placed by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and its supporters.

On November 25, 2005, Conservative MP Inky Mark's Private Member's Bill C-331, Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act, received Royal Assent. This act acknowledges that persons of Ukrainian origin were interned in Canada during the First World War and it legally obliges the Government of Canada to negotiate "an agreement concerning measures that may be taken to recognize the internment" for educational and commemorative projects.

On May 9, 2008, the Canadian government established a $10 million fund managed by the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, for commemoration of the experience of thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans that were interned between 1914–20 and the suspension of civil liberties of tens of thousands of fellow Canadians.

Thought to be the last known survivor of the internment measures, Mary Manko, was only a child of 6 when she was interned with her family at Spirit Lake. She died in July 2007. More recently another survivor, Mary Hanchurak, born in the Spirit Lake camp, was found, aged 92, making her the last known survivor of the internment operations. She died in 2008.

On 12 September 2009 the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund was announced formally with a notice published in The Globe and Mail (national edition, Focus & Book section) describing how individuals or groups can apply for funding for commemorative, educational and cultural activities recalling Canada's first national internment operations. For more information about the Endowment Council go to

See also


  1. ^ Luciuk 2006, p 50.
  2. ^ Kordan 2002, pp 16–51.
  3. ^ Kordan 2002, pp 90–115.
  4. ^ Kordan & Melnycky 1991.
  5. ^ Kordan & Mahovsky 2004, pp 27–41.
  6. ^ Bohdan & Mahovsky 2004, pp 45–62.
  • Kordan, Bohdan and Peter Melnycky (1991), In the Shadow of the Rockies: Diary of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp, Edmonton: CIUS Press.
  • Farney, James, and Bohdan S. Kordan, "The Predicament of Belonging: The Status of Enemy Aliens in Canada, 1914," Journal of Canadian Studies 39.1 (2005) 74-89 in Project MUSE
  • Kordan, Bohdan (2002), Enemy Aliens: Prisoners of War: Internment in Canada During the Great War, Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Kordan, Bohdan and Craig Mahovsky (2004), A Bare and Impolitic Right: Internment and Ukrainian Canadian Redress, Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Luhovy, Yurij (1994), Freedom Had a Price: 1914–1920 Canada's First Internment Operation, VHS/DVD, 55 min.
  • Luciuk, Lubomyr (2000) Searching for Place: Ukrainian Displaced Persons, Canada and the Migration of Memory (University of Toronto Press, reprinted in 2001).
  • Luciuk, Lubomyr (2001), In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada's First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920, Kingston: Kashtan Press.
  • Luciuk, Lubomyr (2006), Without Just Cause, Kingston: Kashtan Press.
  • Martynowych, Orest (1991), “Registration, Internment and Censorship”, in Ukrainians in Canada: The formative period, 1891–1924, pp 323–34. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. ISBN 0-920862-76-4.
  • Bill C-331, An Act to acknowledge that persons of Ukrainian origin were interned in Canada during the First World War and to provide for recognition of this event.

External links



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