For Immediate Release (Ottawa, 17 November 2006)
A small Ukrainian Catholic cemetery located near La Ferme, Quebec, site of the Spirit Lake internment camp from 13 January 1915 to 28 January 1917, is in danger of disappearing entirely unless the federal government takes immediate steps to protect and restore what many Ukrainian Canadians regard as a sacred place, worthy of designation as a national historic site.
During a one-day symposium organized by the Spirit Lake Camp Corporation, on Wednesday, representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian community - Andrew Hladyshevsky, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, and Dr Lubomyr Luciuk, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association - visited the cemetery, located in the adjacent boreal forest, at some distance from the main internment camp site.
Commenting, Dr Luciuk said: " In 1999, many of the internee crosses were still standing, and, while obviously neglected, this cemetery was surrounded by a small picket fence and marked with a wooden sign describing it as the final resting place of some of the men, and possibly children, held here during Canada's first national internment operations. Most were Ukrainians who had been herded up from the St Michael the Archangel Parish in Montreal, then transported north by box car, here forced to labour for the profit of their gaolers on the grounds of a large experimental farm. Today only two crosses still stand, the picket fence is down, the site is almost lost in the bush, and with it the memory of what happened here. While we endorse the work that the Spirit Lake Camp Corporation has been doing to establish an interpretive centre where the camp once stood, we are alarmed at the lack of any care being shown for the cemetery. For years now we have been asking Ottawa to step in and protect the site. They have ignored our requests. We would do this ourselves if we had the resources but, unfortunately, despite all the promises made to us over a year ago not a penny of the pledged funding has been received to date. We have today written to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Bev Oda, asking her to immediately provide us with the resources we need to acquire, restore and protect in perpetuity this hallowed ground. Innocents are buried there, far from their families and the communities they once knew. They are the only Ukrainian Canadians left at La Ferme. That they lie here only because of their needless imprisonment as "enemy aliens." Those who so branded them have a moral duty to make sure that their final resting place does not itself end up being buried by the bush, neglected, forgotten, and finally lost."