'Enemy aliens' remembered

Quebec's ukrainian community today honours the hundreds of people who were detained and forced to do hard time in harsh conditions in places like the Valcartier military base during the First World War


Published: Saturday, September 30, 2006

Kim Pawliw

Kim Pawliw, with a photo of her late grandmother Stephania Mielnickzuk,
and a poem she wrote for her. Mielnickzuk was interned as a 3-year-old,
along with her parents, in northern Quebec during the First World War.

While researching the plight of Ukrainians interned in Canada during the First World War, author Marsha Skrypuch was contacted by a francophone girl eager to learn about her grandmother, who had lived at a camp in rural Quebec when she was only 15 months old.

Skrypuch recently published a poem that the girl, 14-year-old Kim Pawliw, had written about her grandmother, Stephania Mielnickzuk, who lived with her parents at the Spirit Lake internment camp in Abitibi for two years.

This morning, the two descendants of Ukrainian internees will meet for the first time, on the grounds of two former internment camps near Quebec City. They will gather with other members of Quebec's Ukrainian community to unveil two trilingual plaques in honour of the hundreds of Ukrainians and other Europeans detained at the Beauport Armoury and the Valcartier military base between 1914 and 1916.

The federal government used the War Measures Act to intern about 5,000 Ukrainians in 24 camps across Canada from 1914 to 1920. There were four camps in Quebec, including a holding centre on St. Antoine St. in Montreal.

During today's ceremony, Kim will read her recently published poem honouring her grandmother, who died in 2003 at 88.

"I want to talk about her and I want her story to be known," said Kim, a Sherbrooke student who remembers eating perogies and borscht in her grandmother's home in Cowansville. "They had no right to do that to innocent people."

At the time of her death, Mielnickzuk was one of the last two known survivors of Canadian internment camps set up during the First World War.

Many of those interned had come to Canada from territories under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Once Canada went to war against their former homeland in 1914, they were dubbed "enemy aliens" and were used as forced labourers in camps across the country.

Mielnickzuk's father was working for the Canadian Pacific Railway and her mother for Molson Breweries when their property was confiscated and they were put on a train to Spirit Lake, 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

In an interview with The Gazette in 1998, Mielnickzuk said her father told her "people were very scared" at Spirit Lake.

"He had to work every day, cutting wood, and he got no pay," Mielnickzuk said of her family's two-year internment.

Since 1994, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association has erected historical markers at 20 of the 24 camps to honour those who were detained.

"If we had remembered what happened to these Ukrainians in the First World War, then perhaps we would have been a little more careful about how we handled Japanese Canadians (20,000 of whom were interned) during the Second World War," said Lubomyr Luciuk, the association's director of research.

In 2005, after years of lobbying by the Ukrainian community, Prime Minister Paul Martin described the internment as a "dark chapter" in Canada's history.

In one incident, police rounded up 400 members of one church congregation in Point St. Charles and shipped them to Spirit Lake, where the men were forced to clear trees and build roads, said Skrypuch, who has written extensively about Canada's Ukrainian community.

Some were paid 25 cents a day.

"They were told they would get a little farm where they could grow vegetables," said Skrypuch, whose grandfather was also interned. "But when they got there, they had to do hard labour in harsh conditions."

Some were held in camps for 18 months after the war because their labour was so cheap.

Before they were interned, many young men had been fired from jobs for "patriotic reasons" and were left homeless, Skrypuch said.

The Ukrainian community in Canada has spent years seeking redress for past discrimination and prejudice.

In 2005, the federal government promised to provide $2.5 million to Ukrainian Canadians to fund commemorative projects and educational exhibits, but so far the community hasn't received a penny.

"They are ignoring us," Luciuk said.

The prejudice his community suffered during the First World War should remind Canadians about the importance of respecting human rights, Luciuk added.

"We have to be vigilant in defence of civil liberties, especially during domestic crises," he said.


Tribute to My Grandmother


But of Ukrainian origin.

Your freedom was taken away.

Your belongings were confiscated that day.

They took you and your family

Moved all of you to Abitibi

To an internment camp at a time of war.

It was misery.

You worked there for no money.

We must remember this story.

To keep it in memory

For it is all true.

Dear Baba, I will never forget you.

Written by Kim Pawliw when she was 12. Tribute to My Grandmother was translated into English by her parents, and Published in Kobzar's Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories, Edited by Marsha Skrypuch, Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside Canada 2006

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006


Related Links:


Unveiling trilingual plaques recalling the imprisonment of Ukrainians
and other Europeans as "enemy aliens" during Canada's first national
internment operations of 1914-1920.

Saturday, 30 September 2006

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA)

Internment of Ukrainians in Canada 1914-1920

Badly Treated in Every Way The Internment of Ukrainians in Quebec
During the First World War - Peter Melnycky

A Time for Atonement Canada's First National Internment Operations
and the Ukrainian Canadians 1914-1920 -
Lubomyr Luciuk
Ukrainian Internment in Canada - Canadian Alliance MP Inky Mark

Freedom Had a Price

Stephen Harper on Ukrainian internment

Ukrainian Canadians Applaud the Parliament of Canada on
"Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act" -
(UCC site)

Canada's barbed wire fence -  (Ukrainian Weekly)

Ukrainian Canadian internment - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia