Ukrainian Canadians fight to save a forgotten cemetery in Quebec’s Abitibi region

Spirit Lake was one of the examples cited by Ukrainian Canadians during endowment fund negotiations over the World War I Internment Fund in 2008-9:

Beyond the crops, tucked deep in a boggy forest on a farmer’s land in the Abitibi region of Quebec, you’ll find the remnants of a cemetery, a few crosses still visible between the trees.

More than 100 years ago, at least 16 detainees from the nearby Spirit Lake internment camp were buried here.

But there’s no commemorative plaque or historical protection for the land that is slowly being swallowed up by forest.

Source: Ukrainian Canadians fight to save a forgotten cemetery in Quebec’s Abitibi region

B.C. was home to First World War internment camp for Europeans

One of the projects funded by the Canadian Historical Recognition Program endowment to the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund – money well used:

Bill Doskoch was looking for work in Vancouver when he was arrested, for being Ukrainian.

At the dawn of the First World War, the Canadian government rounded up more than 8,000 mostly single men of German, Austrian and Ukrainian ancestry, sending them to 24 concentration camps scattered across the country. One such camp was at Morrissey, not far from Fernie.

As a civilian prisoner of war, Doskoch was moved frequently, eventually incarcerated in five camps between 1914 and 1920 and only released after most others prisoners were long gone.

“He was quite a rabble-rouser apparently and refused to take internment lying down,” said Sarah Beaulieu, an archeology PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University. “He was very angry about being interned.”

Beaulieu is pursuing an excavation at the site of the Morrissey camp this summer. She has already detected an escape tunnel and recovered artifacts, including a barbed-wire crucifix.

Morrissey was regarded as a particularly barbaric experience, with abusive guards, solitary confinement and hard labour.

Bill Doskoch is one of the few prisoners from the Morrissey Internment Camp who talked about his experiences. Here, in 1918, Doskoch is in the back row, fourth from the left, with his collar turned up. FERNIE HISTORICAL SOCIETY / PNG

A report by Consul of Switzerland Samuel Gintzburger, from 1917, notes that prisoners were “absolutely destitute” and were subject to “physical coercion” at the hands of guards. Protests were frequent.

“It was notorious for mistreatment of prisoners,” Beaulieu said. “At the time it received several note verbales (diplomatic protests) from Germany threatening retaliation on Canadian and British prisoners of war should the conditions at Morrissey not improve.”

Beaulieu learned of Bill’s wartime adventures from his daughter, Anne Sadelein, who resides in Edmonton where Doskoch settled in the 1920s. He remained a union activist throughout his life.

“My father spent a lot of time in black holes for writing letters and inciting stop workages or being political,” said Sadelein.

Doskoch was often at the centre of disputes over prisoner labour in the camps.

The Canadian government misinterpreted a clause from the 1907 Hague Convention on the rules of war so that the civilian PoWs could be used as labourers building roads and parks.

Some archival records note that prisoners were paid 55 cents a day for voluntary labour, but that 30 cents a day was deducted to pay for their room and board in the camp.

When civilian internees became aware that the clause in The Hague Convention only applied to military PoWs, Doskoch copied out the entire convention by hand as a reminder of their rights, according to Sadelein.

“He knew that they had been illegally arrested and wanted to do something about it,” said Beaulieu. “Most of the prisoners were civilians with no military connections who had come to Canada to settle the Prairies.”

Morrissey had been a coal-mining camp between 1902 and 1904, but was a ghost town when the federal government converted it into a concentration camp on Sept. 28, 1915. The Canadian government would later use the term internment to avoid the association with German concentration camps after the Second World War.

“They were very badly fed: fat and potatoes,” said a female descendant of a Ukrainian Morrissey internee interviewed by Beaulieu. “No vegetables, fruit or milk and these were young men — a lot of them in their early 20s. They had to work very hard. Ten hours a day sometimes. I can’t say that it was a nice, kind camp.”

Beaulieu has the names and faces of a few prisoners. Unfortunately, in 1954, a lot of the archival material was destroyed by the Canadian government because they had no place to store it. So very little is known about the operations of these camps today.

“When I first came to do interviews people weren’t really aware of the camp at Morrissey and the few that did were under the impression that it had been a sanctuary for destitute foreigners during the First World War,” she said.

A guard watches the fence in winter at the Morrissey Internment Camp. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA / PNG

The internees have largely stayed in the shadows, even after the government offered to pay them for their labours. Though prisoners were supposed to be paid for their labour on release, those monies were never given to them. Most were too afraid to fight at the time and were loathe to apply for it when it was available in 1929 because it would have revealed to their families that they had been prisoners.

Interviews and documents being collected by academics such as Beaulieu are being gathered and organized by the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, which is also funding her work in Morrissey.

Source: B.C. was home to First World War internment camp for Europeans | Vancouver Sun

Canadian Museum of Human Rights: Letter Regarding Portrayal of World War 1 Internment

The ongoing challenge in satisfying (or not) everyone at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as seen in this campaign:

We will be asking our affected communities to refrain from partaking in the opening ceremonies or any subsequent activities at the CMHR until this matter is resolved fairly.

While we welcome the development of a national museum outside the capital region, it is regrettable that the CMHR’s exhibits were developed without sufficient attention being given to key Canadian stories. An enlarged photograph and one short film clip buried in a documentary film does not, in our view, constitute an acceptable treatment of Canada’s first national internment operations.

If your goal is to have a truly inclusive national museum then you must reflect the nation’s multicultural history. The insignificant attention given to First World War era internment operations represents a slight to all of the internees, enemy aliens and their descendants, including Canadians of Ukrainian, Hungarian, Croatian, German, Austrian, Polish, Slovak, Czech, Serbian, Slovene, Bulgarian, and other origins.

Earlier controversies, spearheaded by some of the same people, included the relative portrayal of the Holocaust compared to the Holodomor (starvation of Ukraine under Stalin) – see Discontent remains on CMHR, Holodomor.

As to the portrayal of the internment camps, the Museum has to balance this against other Canadian stories such as the Chinese Head Tax, the “continuous journey” and other immigration restrictions, Japanese Canadian internment and dispersal, and other groups affected during World War II.

I don’t envy the Museum in the choices and decisions it must make.

The Government endowed $10 million to the World War I Internment Fund (more than any other group under the Community Historical Recognition Program) along with a Parks Canada $3-4 million project at Banff (Cave and Basin) to educate visitors about the or one of the first internment camps in Canada.

Picking on one aspect while not acknowledging the broader picture, while legitimate, seems a bit excessive.

Lubomyr Luciuk: Remembering a time when Canadians were caged

Lubomyr Luciuk on the World War 1 internment camps and the unveiling of plaques commemorating them. More balanced that some of the language of activists interviewed on CBC that called them “concentration camps:”

That led to the creation of the Endowment Council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, an inclusive body charged with hallowing the memory of all of the First World War’s “enemy aliens” through commemorative and educational initiatives. I take great satisfaction in recalling how two men working together, one of Chinese and the other of Ukrainian heritage, saw justice done, despite all the naysayers and thwarters. The country Inky and I share is one we are proud to be citizens of.

Today, one hundred years after passage of The War Measures Act — the same Act deployed in the Second World War against our fellow Japanese, Italian, and German Canadians, and against some Québécois in 1970 — over 100 plaques will be unveiled at 11 am local time in over 60 cities, starting in Amherst, Nova Scotia then flowing west to Nanaimo, B.C., a first-ever event in Canadian history. This national wave of remembrance, beginning and ending at internment camp sites, will sweep from coast to coast where a wave of repression once passed. These plaques fulfil Mary’s dream.

Lubomyr Luciuk: Remembering a time when Canadians were caged

Exhibit into First World War internment camps in Banff officially opens

As someone who worked on getting this project launched, nice to see the official opening take place.

Exhibit into First World War internment camps in Banff officially opens.