Ukrainian Internment CampThis photo captures a sombre moment at the internment camp. Ivan Hryhoryshchuk, lying dead on the rail cart, was killed while attempting to escape from the Spirit Lake, Quebec, internment camp, June 7, 1915. Photo by Sergeant William Buck from the collection "In My Charge."
It has been 25 years since Lubomyr Luciuk published a pamphlet titled A Time For Atonement. His thesis was simple: the internment of thousands of Ukrainian Canadians into concentration camps between 1914 and 1920 needed to be addressed by Canada’s government and people.
The picture of Ivan Hryoryshchuk’s body should be alarming even today. Why did he try to escape the internment camp? Was it because he was, in fact, an enemy alien, set about interfering with Canada’s war effort? Or, much more likely, was he trying to return to his family who were hungry and alone? The letters between the interned men and their wives and children are galling. What justification did the Canadian government of the day have to treat citizens as expendable aliens? Why should it matter a century later?
Historical research into the internments began in the mid-1980s when living memory was just about eclipsed. The generation following the internments carried the stories from parents about the deprivations—both physical and legal—that were endured for six dark years. In 2008, as a result of the awareness raised by the research, Bill C-331 was enacted and provided a $10 million endowment fund through which the internments could be commemorated.
It is chilling to imagine the suffering that was executed on the Ukrainians and other East Europeans when they were identified as enemy aliens under a federal order.
Saskatoon native Ryan Boyko is busy doing just that chilling imaginative exercise. The actor and filmmaker has written the script for Enemy Aliens, a feature-length dramatic movie, and is ready to start shooting in the winter of 2013. The story follows two brothers on their journey from Ukraine to Canada at exactly the wrong moment in history. They are thrown into the politics of WWI and find themselves in the system of internment camps rather than working toward the better life they had hoped for.
Boyko’s inspiration for the movie is rooted deeply in his past. In the mid-1990s, his father took him to see Yurij Luhovy’s film documentary Freedom Had A Price at the Saskatoon Public Library. “That was my first experience with racism, my first experience with intolerance toward my culture. I was shocked to know that this had happened in Canada,” he says.
The records that could reveal the way things were are sadly incomplete, says Danylo Bodnar, long-standing member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). In 1954, federal files pertaining to the internment were purposely destroyed leaving a massive hole in the data available to researchers. The absence of official documentation leaves questions unanswered for Bodnar and others who want to see the circumstances revealed.
“There are many questions,” says Bodnar. “Why is it that the War Measures Act was effected on August 22nd but people were already being sent to camps a month before that? The British government directed Canada to treat the East Europeans as friendly, not as enemies.”
Learn more about the historical research into the internment of Ukrainians at www.infoukes.com or the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Union. Find out more about Ryan Boyko’s film project at www.armisticefilms.com.
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