Shortly after Canada entered the First World War on August 4, 1914, the federal government introduced the War Measures Act.
Its sweeping powers suspended civil liberties in the interest of protecting the country, including through the internment of enemy aliens.
Anyone who resided in Canada but was a citizen of a state legally at war with Canada was classified as an “enemy alien.” This designation included immigrants from Germany and the Austro- Hungarian Empire. Of the 8,579 men interned during the First World War, 5,000 were Ukrainian.
Just over three thousand of the internees were considered prisoners of war; the rest were civilians. In addition, eighty- one women and 156 children were voluntarily interned.
These policies of the War Measures Act encouraged xenophobic views towards immigrants, primarily those from Eastern Europe.
Internees were held in twenty-four receiving stations and internment camps across Canada from 1914 until as late as 1920. They worked labour-intensive jobs in the logging industry, steel mills, and mines in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
Work camps were also set up in several national parks, where internees built roads, bridges, highways, and other development projects to make Banff, Jasper, Mount Revelstoke, and Yoho National Parks more accessible. The national parks camps were closed in 1916.
Though people of many nationalities were affected by the internment policies enacted under the War Mea
sures Act, Ukrainians were by far the largest population to feel its impact.
After years of lobbying, in 2005 Bill C-331 was passed to recognize “the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and other Europeans who were interned at the time of the First World War.”
The restitution from this bill has allowed for public commemoration and education on the history of interned citizens.
During the Great War, interned men such as these helped to clear the right of way for a new road along Kicking Horse Canyon in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia.