Ukrainian Internment Camps – 1914-1920
At the beginning of World War I in August 1914, the Canadian government enacted the federal War Measures Act (WMA). The Act’s sweeping powers permitted the government to suspend or limit civil liberties in the interest of Canada’s protection, including the right to incarcerate “enemy aliens”.
The term “enemy alien” referred to the citizens of states legally at war with Canada who resided in Canada during the war. Under the authority of the WMA, Canada interned 8,579 enemy aliens, men, women, and children, in 24 receiving stations and internment camps from 1914-1920. One of these camps was only 7 miles west of Saskatoon at Eaton Siding, current home of the Saskatchewan Railway Museum.
The majority of those interned were of Ukrainian descent, targeted because Ukraine was then split between Russia (an ally) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an enemy of the British Empire. In addition to those placed in camps, another 80,000 enemy aliens, again mostly Ukrainians, were forced to carry identity papers and to report regularly to local police offices.
The government frequently employed internees on massive labour projects, including the development of Banff National Park and numerous mining and logging operations. Internees had much of their wealth confiscated, although most were paid $0.25 a day, far less than that offered to labourers of the time period. Interned Canadians were also disenfranchised, lost their right to vote, during the course of the war.
War-time fervour and xenophobic fear had been the main factors driving the policy of internment, and not actual attacks on Canada’s domestic war effort by enemy sympathizers. There were a few inept plans for sabotage on Canadian soil, and fear of a German invasion persisted for several years, but no serious threats materialized.
The internment of Canadians left painful scars and, for Ukrainian Canadians in particular, the lingering suggestion of widespread disloyalty. In November 2005, after a long, grassroots campaign by the Ukrainian community, Bill C-331 recognized the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War and called for negotiated settlement between government and members of the Ukrainian-Canadian community. (Text modified from the Canadian War Museum)
Remembering Our History – The Camps by Armistice Films
Actor and activist Ryan Boyko founded Armistice Films in October of 2010. The film company began as a direct result of Mr. Boyko’s desire to tell the story of Canada’s first national internment operations through the power of cinema. It is a story of those lured to Canada by the false promise of a dream – hated when they arrived, turned into prisoners and slaves in the prime of their lives, in a country that promised them a chance, yet never told the story of their affliction. It is a subject struck from Canadian history books.
Armistice Films will release one episode every week. Please take a few moments to watch these short videos about the internment camp, an important and silenced part of Canada’s history.
The company is currently in high gear, financing Enemy Aliens. Armistice Films is the first Canadian company to receive funding directly from Ukraine through a contribution of 1.5 million Canadian from the Ukrainian State Film Agency. Armistice Films is working to raise an additional 3.8 Million CAD to begin filming Enemy Aliens this year. The making of this film will honour the trials and sacrifice of thousands of Ukrainians, Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Turks, Serbians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, Slovaks, Slovenes, Czechs and Romanians whose home country was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s rule. Their freedom was stripped and they were forced into work camps. Many lost everything between the years 1914 – 1920.