Ukrainian Canadian Internment Educational documents
Lest we forget. The Ukrainian Weekly, July 7, 2023
Lest We Forget
We don't know a lot. I'm guessing the three men never met in life. Two were buried in the summer of 1915. In February 1916 the third of them died. They might have known each other before they got to Kingston - but since we don't know where they came from, or when they arrived, there's no way of knowing. They weren't the only ones who died in captivity - twenty men succumbed after being confined in Kingston's Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane, also known as the Rockwood Lunatic Asylum. Eight were mis-identified as "Austrians" while the other twelve were Germans. All were branded as "enemy aliens" during Canada's first national internment operations of 1914-1920. "Dozens" of those deemed "insane," collected from various asylums across Canada, were among the 2,000 or so "aliens" returned to Europe after the war. The first repatriates sailed in July 1919 aboard the SS Sicilian. The last batch were on the SS Melita, which steamed east from St John in March 1920. None of them had any choice. They were deported whence they came.
The Rockwood three we know something about were called Dezső Benscura, Walter Grooham and Andreas Moritsky. Whether those are accurate renderings of their names, recorded by immigration officials or jailers who had little knowledge or interest in the languages, nations, or faith groups of eastern Europe, I can't say. As noted on 30 September 1920, in a final report tabled by General Sir William Desmond Otter, the officer in charge of the Office of Internment Operations, 8,579 men along with 81 women and 156 children, were herded into 24 camps behind Canadian barbed wire. Of that number 106, a majority of them "Austrians," were deemed "insane" and placed in provincial institutions - at Ponoka, Alberta; Essondale, British Columbia; Brandon, Manitoba; Hamilton, Rockwood, and Mimico, Ontario; St Jean de Dieu, Quebec, with 3 other internees hospitalized in Nova Scotia. Only one man, an "Austrian," died of "insanity." What killed the other two at Rockwood is not preserved in the historical record.
General Otter claimed: "Great care was observed in having the cause of death established and recorded, the place of burial marked, due regard being paid to the latter ceremony, while the effects of the deceased were cared for and whenever possible their nearest of kin informed."
Records were kept about some deaths, like the names of the six men killed attempting to escape including the dates on which they were shot. And perhaps the possessions of some of the 107 deceased internees were, somehow, returned to their families. But the three buried in Kingston were laid to rest in unmarked graves, somewhere within the confines of St Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, no one knows exactly where. That they ended up in this burial ground is likely because they were Catholics, as many immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have been. Or perhaps it was because their mortal remains were not wanted at the Cataraqui Cemetery, a territory then reserved for this city's Anglo-Celtic and Protestant elites.
Were they buried close to each other? No one knows. Was a prayer said over each man before he was covered, as General Otter wrote? I hope so. But I doubt that any of their family members or friends left in the "old country" - somewhere in that multinational, multi-confessional, and multilingual Austro-Hungarian Empire that would itself disintegrate at the end of the First World War - would ever find out what happened. These men simply disappeared. Having left their homelands hoping for a better life they never suspected that arriving with an Austro-Hungarian passport would mark them, under the terms of the War Measures Act, as "enemy aliens," subject to detention and forced labour. Even more galling was that they knew they had done no wrong. They had immigrated legally. They were not criminals. And yet, following the outbreak of the Great War, they found themselves suddenly treated as prisoners-of-war, without just cause. Thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans suffered various state-sanctioned indignities. For many the racism and xenophobia they endured would be debilitating. As Watson Kirkconnell, who served as a militia officer and would become a Queen's University professor and later a president of Acadia University, admitted privately:
Insanity was by no means uncommon among the prisoners, many being interned it was suspected to relieve municipalities of their care, while in others the disease possibly developed from a nervous condition brought about by the confinement and restrictions entailed.
Today, thanks to a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, three markers bearing the names of these three internees are laid out beside each other in St Mary's Cemetery. They did not die together. They may never have known each other. Yet they will be remembered together because of what they suffered in a country where they hoped to find a better life. This much we can be certain of.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada and a Fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. His forthcoming book, Lest They Forget (Kingston: Kashtan Press, 2023), documents the Ukrainian Canadian redress movement.
Voices of Internment, Ideas with Nahlah Ayed, CBC Radio, May 16, 2023
It’s a hidden chapter of Canadian history that’s slowly emerging. Thousands of Ukrainians labelled ‘aliens of enemy origin’ were interned in labour camps during the First World War. Descendants of those imprisoned in the camps share their stories.
The Materiality of Mental Health at the Morrissey World War I Internment Camp. Beaulieu, S.E. Hist Arch 56, 482–503 (September 2022).
To date, very little is known archaeologically about First World War–era internment camps, especially in Canada, where this history was actively erased through the destruction of the federal internment records in the 1950s. This research focuses on the Morrissey Internment Camp, one of Canada’s 24 World War I internment camps, with the aim of using the material culture record at the camp as a point of access to examine the coping strategies prisoners of war adopted to help mitigate mental-health issues triggered by confinement. Fieldwork involved surveying, mapping, the deployment of ground-penetrating radar, and excavation within the grounds of the internment camp. A formal walking traverse of the site was conducted to map the surface collections of archaeological material. In addition, archival materials that included government reports, maps, and photographs complemented interviews conducted with the descendant community. The findings indicate that arts and handicrafts, religion, communication, resistance, tobacco, alcohol, and purchased comforts may have helped prisoners of war stave off depression and sustain a degree of mental health.
Lost Liberties - The Measures Act, Canadian Museum of History, January 2022
The Lost Liberties exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History has a very useful teachers’ zone website providing good information about civil liberties and human rights in Canada during times of domestic and international crisis. Please circulate this to others so that the story of Canada’s first national internment operations becomes even better know to our fellow Canadians.
Relics In The Shadows, Canadian Museum of History, October 22, 2021
In December 2021, the Canadian Museum of History will open an exhibition, Lost Liberties − The War Measures Act, generously supported by a grant from the Endowment Council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. The exhibition explores three periods in Canadian history when personal freedoms were curtailed. In this article, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk shares his thoughts on the importance of artifacts in presenting stories about Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914−1920.
Hooligans ignorant of internment history, Letters to the Editor, The Calgary Herald, July 7, 2021
The cretins who vandalized a Ukrainian Catholic church in Calgary also damaged a historical marker recalling the victims of Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920. Thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans were unjustly branded as ‘enemy aliens’ and many were forced to do heavy labour for the profit of their jailers, including in the national parks at Banff and Jasper.
Some died in captivity and were buried in unmarked graves, including those transported to Spirit Lake in Quebec’s Abitibi region.
To this day, Ottawa has ignored repeated pleas for restoring this internee cemetery, doing nothing to help hallow the remains of the men and children who were left there. The hooligans who spray-painted our plaque at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church obviously know little about Canadian history and demonstrated only cowardice as they perpetrated this hate crime.
Lubomyr Luciuk, Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Enemy Alien A True Story of Life behind Barbed Wire, a book by Kassandra Luciuk and Nicole Marie Burton, February 12, 2020
This graphic history tells the story of Canada’s first national internment operations through the eyes of John Boychuk, an internee held in Kapuskasing from 1914 to 1917. The story is based on Boychuk’s actual memoir, which is the only comprehensive internee testimony in existence.
The novel follows Boychuk from his arrest in Toronto to Kapuskasing, where he spends just over three years. It details the everyday struggle of the internees in the camp, including forced labour and exploitation, abuse from guards, malnutrition, and homesickness. It also documents moments of internee agency and resistance, such as work slowdowns and stoppages, hunger strikes, escape attempts, and riots.
Little is known about the lives of the incarcerated once the paper trail stops, but Enemy Alien subsequently traces Boychuk’s parole, his search for work, his attempts to organize a union, and his ultimate settlement in Winnipeg. Boychuk’s reflections emphasize the much broader context in which internment takes place. This was not an isolated incident, but rather part and parcel of Canadian nation building and the directives of Canada’s settler colonial project.
Paperback / softback, 96 pages
Coming March 2020
That Never Happened, Now on DVD, Armistice Films, December 6, 2019
The film reveals the story of Canada's first national internment operations between 1914-1920 when over 88,000 people were forced to register, and more than 8,500 were wrongfully imprisoned in internment camps across Canada, because of the country they came from. In 1954, the public records were destroyed, and in the 1980's a few brave men and women began working to reclaim this chapter in history and ensure future generations would know about it. THAT NEVER HAPPENED was released theatrically across Canada last year, and was the Official Selection of the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in September 2018. The film screened for the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as part of celebrations marking the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Right
"Enemy Aliens: Internment in Canada 1914-1920" Fort Henry National Historic Site, St. Lawrence Parks Commission final project report, 2019
During the First World War, Fort Henry was used as an internment camp. Currently Fort Henry houses a travelling exhibit on permanent load titled "Enemy Aliens: Internment in Canada 1914 - 1920", which was developed by the Canadian War Museum in partnership with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation.
The Stories Were Not Told: Canada's First World War Internment Camps' author Sandra Semchuk, Feb 7, 2019, CBC Radio Calgary, The Homestretch with Doug Dirks
From 1914 to 1920, thousands of men who immigrated to Canada from Europe were called 'enemy aliens' and sent to internment camps during the First World War. Some families were imprisoned as well. Sandra Semchuk explores that dark period in our history in her new book, 'The Stories Were Not Told: Canada's First World War Internment Camps' -- inspired by a stop at Castle Mountain near Banff. Sandra joined host Doug Dirks in studio.
Exhibit sheds light on dark part of Jasper’s past, The Jasper Local, page B1, August 15, 2018 Issue 127
The Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives’ latest exhibit “Enemy Aliens” traveled from the Canadian War Museum and explores a part of the nation’s First World War history that’s not often discussed.
Video: First World War internment camp a little known part of Sask. history, The Star Phoenix, May 26, 2018
On February 25, 1919, 65 internees were forcibly relocated from the Munson Internment Camp in Alberta to the railway siding at Eaton, Sask., where a camp was constructed. On Friday, the Eaton Internment Camp Memorial Garden was officially dedicated with a reflection area and a bronze plaque. This event will also mark the beginning of a year of remembrance, recognizing 2019 as the centenary of the Eaton Internment Camp.
Canadian Heritage Minister Joly Asked for Help, An Appeal, The Internee Cemetery at Spirit Lake (La Ferme), Quebec. February 9, 2016
On February 9, 2016, the Minister for Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, is being asked for help in saving a Great War cemetery holding the remains of at least 16 "enemy aliens."
Canada's internment of 'enemy aliens' during World War One. www.france24.com September 24, 2014
It's a piece of history unknown to many, even in Canada. During World War 1 thousands of people were interned in 24 camps across the country. Their place of birth was their only crime: being from the Austro-Hungarian Empire was enough for the Canadian government to consider them as subjects of an enemy country. But the stories of these men and women - most of them Ukrainian - have begun to resurface, thanks in part to the work being done at memorial sites like here in Spirit Lake, Quebec.
Ceremony honours those held in internment camps, Lethbridge, Global News, October 29, 2013
Tue, Oct 29: Southern Alberta is rich in history, and Lethbridge is no exception. Internment camps were set up in our city during the first and second world wars. From 1914 to 1916 an internment camp was set up at the exhibition grounds. Quinn Campbell reports.
The death of Mary Manko: Righting a historical injustice, Kingston Whig-Standard, Aug 1, 2007
DEATH OF MARY MANKO: RIGHTING A HISTORICAL INJUSTICE
COMMENTARY: By Lubomyr Luciuk, The Kingston Whig-Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Wednesday, August 1, 2007
We buried her under a maple. Seeing Mary's grave sheltered by a tree
whose leaf symbolizes our country was comforting. Nearby stands a
spruce. That evergreen would have reminded her of the boreal forest
she knew as a young girl.
Even though she was born in Montreal, Mary was branded an "enemy
alien" and transported north to the Spirit Lake concentration camp, along
with the rest of the Manko family. Thousands of Ukrainians and other
Europeans like them were jailed, not because of anything they had done,
but only because of where they had come from, who they were.
What little wealth they had was taken, and they were forced to do hard
labour for the profit of their jailers. The Mankos lost something even more
precious, their youngest daughter, Nellie, who died there.
Mary Manko Haskett passed away 14 July, the last known survivor of
Canada's first national internment operations. She was 98. For years she
lent her support to the Ukrainian Canadian community's campaign to
secure a timely and honourable redress settlement.
Disappointingly, she did not live to see that happen, despite the Honourable
Stephen Harper's own words. On 24 March 2005 he rose in the House of
Commons to support fellow Conservative Inky Mark's Bill C 331 - The
Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act, saying: "Mary Haskett, is still alive..
I sincerely hope that she will live to see an official reconciliation of
this past injustice." The Prime Minister might now ask the bureaucracy
why his wish was ignored.
The government did, at least, send a representative to Mary's funeral,
Conservative MP Mike Wallace, (Burlington) who read a prepared
statement, subsequently added to the website of the Secretary of State
for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney: " We were saddened to hear of
the death of Mrs. Mary Manko Haskett, the last known survivor of
Canadian internment camps during the First World War and the
On behalf of Canada's New Government, I would like to extend my
condolences to Mrs. Haskett's family, as well as the Ukrainian-Canadian
community. Born and raised in Montreal, Mary was six years old when
she and her family were detained in the Spirit Lake internment camp.
Despite advice from British officials that 'friendly aliens' should not be
interned, Ottawa invoked The War Measures Act to detain 8,579 'enemy
aliens' including Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croats, Turks, Serbs,
Hungarians, Russians, Jews, and Romanians - but the majority (perhaps
as many as 5,000) were of Ukrainian origin.
Many were unwilling subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus
not 'enemy aliens' at all. For years. Mrs Haskett and others argued that
'Canada's first internment operations' herded together individuals based
on nationality - many of them Canadian-born - and compelled them into
Despite the original wartime justification for these measures, many were
kept in custody for two years after the Armistice of 1918. We are all
grateful for Mrs. Manko Haskett's dedication to the cause of remembering
and commemorating this important event in Canada's history."
Official condolences for those recently deceased, for example Bluma
Appel and Ed Mirvish, can be found on the Canadian Heritage website.
The innocuous text cited above wasn't included, however, being deemed
"too political." And so yet another indignity was heaped upon Mary,
posthumously. Remembering her means recalling what was done to her
and by whom. That's a no-no. While this gaffe may be corrected, even
if Mary wasn't rich or a patron of the arts, it's too late. We got the
Years ago Mary provided a prescription for the redress campaign. She
insisted we should never demand an apology, or compensation for
survivors, or their descendants. Instead we should ask, politely, for
recognition and the restitution of what was taken under duress.
Those funds, to be held in a community-based endowment, would
underwrite commemorative and educational projects that, hopefully,
will ensure no other ethnic, religious or racial minority suffers as
Ukrainian Canadians once did.
While no survivors remain, and even their descendants are senior citizens,
a new generation of Canadians of Ukrainian heritage took up Mary's
cause nearly two decades ago, even though none of us had any ties to
the victims. That changed the day of Mary's funeral, when my mother
and sister returned from western Ukraine. They knew about Mary but,
being away, did not know she had died.
They brought the news that my cousin, Lesia, had married Ivan Manko,
himself distantly related to Mary's parents, Katherine and Andrew,
whose graves are found in Mississsauga's St. Christopher's Catholic
cemetery, not far from Mary's mound.
This crusade was always about righting an historical injustice and, in
that sense, is political. It just got personal too. -30-
NOTE: Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk is director of research for the Ukrainian
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca)
Kapuskasing Internment Camp Plaque, Ontario Heritage Foundation, July 2, 1996
At 2 p.m. on July 2, 1996, an Ontario Heritage Foundation provincial plaque commemorating the Kapuskasing Internment Camp was unveiled in the park outside the Ron Morel Memorial Museum, Macpherson Street at Hwy 11, Kapuskasing.