Endowment established in memory of interned Europeans

2008 október 11 7:30 du.0 comments
Spirit Lake (La Ferme), Québec

Spirit Lake (La Ferme), Québec

The Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko will be administering a $10 million endowment fund aimed at exploring and commemorating the experiences of Eastern Europeans and members of ethno-cultural communities in general, who were interned in Canada during World War I. Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, announced the establishment of the fund earlier this year. Christopher Adam, a lecturer in history at Carleton University, president of the Montreal Hungarian Historical Society and secretary of the Canada Hungary Educational Foundation (CHEF), has been appointed to serve on the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund’s Advisory Council.

The agreement between the Government of Canada and the Shevchenko Foundation was signed by Andrew Hladyshevsky, the organization’s president. Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College in Kingston and president of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA), has long pushed for Canadian authorities to recognize the country’s World War I internment operations. President Hladyshevsky noted that the newly created federal endowment will benefit all Canadians, as light will finally be shed on a neglected chapter of Canadian history. “This symbolic restitution, reflecting a part of the funds previously confiscated from the internees as well as their unpaid labour, is the first step in reconciliation which will bring to light this sad chapter in Canadian history. The plight of the internees, which included the forfeiture of their civil liberties as well as their economic capacity, has been largely ignored by Canadian historians. The signing of this funding agreement allows this journey of knowledge to begin,” said Andrew Hladyshevsky.

Professor Luciuk’s book, Without Just Cause, is among a very small handful of scholarly works that examines Canada’s first national internment operations, which took place between 1914 and 1920. According to this research, federal authorities incarcerated 8,579 so-called “enemy aliens.” What most of these Eastern Europeans had in common was that they were considered to be Austro-Hungarian citizens, since their homeland was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the Ukrainians interned, for example, came from Bukovina or Galicia. While the vast majority of internees were Ukrainians, it is clear that there were also Hungarian, Polish, Croatian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian prisoners. Archival documents suggest that prisoners at many of these internment camps were mistreated by guards, and even Sir William D. Otter, a high-ranking officer in charge of internments, admitted as much in his correspondences. On one occasion, Otter noted that “rough conduct” on the part of guards was “by no means an uncommon occurrence.” Dr. Luciuk observed that mistreatment led internees to actively resist camp authorities on a couple of occasions, including during a riot in Kapuskasing (Ontario), which involved 1,200 internees.

The Advisory Council held its first meeting last month in Amos, a small town situated in Québec’s Abitibi region. The municipality’s significance within the context of this project is that it was home to the Spirit Lake Internment Camp. This area is currently referred to as La Ferme and the lake’s name has since been changed to Lac-Beauchamp. Spirit Lake was among the most important of these camps from 1915 to 1917, as nearly 1,200 Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans were interned here. Spirit Lake was also only one of two camps that was actually surrounded by barbed wire fencing. The Corporation Camp Spirit Lake, an organization based in Trécesson (Québec), has already purchased the Saint Viateur Church in La Ferme, situated directly across from where the camp’s barracks once stood. The group plans to install a permanent exhibit in the building next year.

The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund is a long-term project, lasting for the next 15 years. During this time, a range of proposals aimed at presenting the history of Canada’s first internment operations, as well as commemorative projects, will be examined by the seven member Advisory Council.

Canadian Hungarian Journal

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