CANADA’S PRIS­ON­ERS

Canada's History - - THE PACKET - –– Ali­son Nagy

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.

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