Fears of the ‘en­emy’ within

Lethbridge Herald - - HOMETOWN NEWS -

As we look back on his­tory, it is hard for us to imag­ine a time when the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment could ar­bi­trar­ily brand their own cit­i­zens as en­e­mies and find a means by which to de­tain them for long pe­ri­ods of time.

Un­for­tu­nately, this is ex­actly what hap­pened in Lethbridge and other com­mu­ni­ties across the na­tion, be­gin­ning just hours af­ter Canada's dec­la­ra­tion of war in Au­gust 1914.

On Sept. 11, 1914, barely a month af­ter Canada en­tered the war, the Lethbridge Daily Her­ald an­nounced that the only mil­i­tary prison in Al­berta was to be es­tab­lished at the Lethbridge Ex­hi­bi­tion Grounds. The poul­try barn where the pris­on­ers were to be held was ren­o­vated and barbed wire was in­stalled to keep the “en­emy” safely con­tained. Ini­tially, the en­emy was de­fined as in­di­vid­u­als of Ger­man, Aus­trian, Hun­gar­ian or Turk­ish de­scent who be­longed to re­serve units in their home­lands; how­ever, this was soon ex­panded to in­clude any­one with an eth­nic sound­ing name that was “act­ing sus­pi­ciously.” Cit­i­zens were en­cour­aged to re­port any “sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour” to the po­lice for in­ves­ti­ga­tion — and re­port they did.

Ac­cu­sa­tions abounded rang­ing from pos­ses­sion of banned books to the sab­o­tage of thresh­ing ma­chines nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of lo­cal crops. In an at­tempt to es­cape the at­mos­phere of sus­pi­cion, many of th­ese po­ten­tial “en­emy aliens” tried to make their way to the Amer­i­can bor­der as the United States was neu­tral and not in­volved in the con­flict. If caught, po­ten­tial “en­emy aliens” were promptly ar­rested and re­turned to Lethbridge for de­ten­tion.

The “en­emy aliens” had also been cut off from their fam­i­lies in Europe, as they could not send or re­ceive any mail to or from home. Some would try to get the mail through to Sweet­grass, Mont., but once again, if they were dis­cov­ered, the con­se­quences would be se­vere.

At its peak in mid-1915, the Lethbridge De­ten­tion Camp held 300 pris­on­ers and em­ployed 60 guards. In the fall of 1916, the Lethbridge camp was closed, pri­mar­ily be­cause the city was lo­cated too close to the Amer­i­can bor­der, which pro­vided an in­cen­tive for de­tainees to at­tempt to es­cape.

Your old pho­tos, doc­u­ments, and ar­ti­facts might have his­tor­i­cal value. Please con­tact Galt Mu­seum & Ar­chives for ad­vice be­fore de­stroy­ing them.

A weekly look at events that helped shape the his­tory of south­ern Al­berta as sup­plied by the Galt Mu­seum & Ar­chives

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