Ukrainian imprisonment plaque defaced

Ukrainian-Canadians are outraged over the defacement of a plaque commemorating the imprisonment of thousands of their ancestors in a First World War internment camp in Banff National Park.

The plaque, located about 12 kilometres east of Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway, was recently found with scrapings on it reading "f--k you," while the accompanying descriptive plate had the letters "B.S." scratched into it.

Parks Canada was notified Wednesday by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a group working to represent the human rights of the country's Ukrainian community.

Parks Canada spokeswoman Marjorie Huculak said the government agency sent maintenance crews to the site to determine the extent of the damage and assess for repairs.

"I was quite surprised by the statements," said Huculak, "but what we need to do is evaluate the situation and the extent of damage and the steps we need to take."

Lubomyr Luciuk, the association's research director, said he was appalled by what he described as a cowardly act.

"It's someone who isn't fit to clean the boots of internees," said Luciuk. "I will be asking Parks Canada and the government of Canada to prosecute them to the full extent of the law."

The plaque, which rests at the bottom of a statue depicting an internee with an outstretched hand, was erected in 1995 following extensive lobbying by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Since then, about two plaques a year have been put in place by the association, including another at the Cave and Basin historic site in the Banff townsite.

"We've never had an incident," said Luciuk of the numerous plaques. "This is the only incident of vandalism, of Ukrainophobia, that's ever occurred, and we've been doing this since 1994."

Between 1914 and 1920, thousands of people -- most of them Ukrainian-Canadians -- were imprisoned in internment camps throughout Canada as "enemy aliens."

Today, little is left of the camp near Lake Louise other than a few kitchen supplies, whitewashed stone and barbed wire scattered in the dense forest.

However, many tourists and locals stop by the commemorative statue, which reads only "Why?", placing flowers at its base to honour those who suffered through the hard labour of the camps.

"It (the statue) does nothing to take away from the park," said Luciuk. "It only enhances it, and that's what the plaque does -- it brings people to the site and makes people think about what happened there . . . an episode of history that many people might not think about, but should consider."

Luciuk added that while the profanity placed on the plaque does not specifically target Ukrainian-Canadians, he believes the etchings were made by someone who had read the plaque and decided to editorialize on its content.

Dan Ovsey is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook.