Barbed Wire

Badly Treated in Every Way

The Internment of Ukrainians in Quebec
During the First World War

Peter Melnycky

Barbed Wire


Prior to Canada's entry into the First World War on 6 August 1914, over 170,000 Ukrainians had settled in the country: whole families of peasants lured by Canada's National Policy to settle western homesteads and tens of thousands of single men and women who arrived to work as industrial and agricultural labourers. Most came from territories within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the Central Powers with which Britain and Canada were soon to be at war. This would have dramatic consequences for them, as it did for hundreds of thousands of other pre-war immigrants who inadvertently found themselves living in a country at war with their former homelands.

Many of these immigrants were already Canadian citizens, although that was not necessarily a shield from discrimination, but many thousands were not. In order to deal with a large un-naturalized immigrant population, the Dominion Government enacted a series of regulations and orders-in-council for the monitoring, registration and potential confinement of un-naturalized immigrants from countries with which Canada was at war. During the course of the war, some 80,000 immigrants from "enemy" countries were registered as "enemy aliens" and 8,579 "enemy aliens" confined in internment camps. The majority of those interned were civilian male non-combatants; Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Croats, Serbs, Slovaks, and other immigrants attracted to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with small numbers of Turks and Bulgarians.

Although designed to house un-naturalized enemy alien immigrants who had contravened regulations or who were deemed to be security threats, in practice, the camps served primarily to hold the destitute and unemployed.

Nativist pressure and prejudice were also factors through which individuals, in some cases naturalized British subjects, ended up in the camps. By 1916 most military and government officials realized the vast majority of those interned posed no real threat to security. Indeed, labour shortages within industry and agriculture dictated that most of them be paroled back into the labour market. Another important consideration in the release of Ukrainian and other civilians was that the camps required the expenditure of scarce resources on the imprisonment of people innocent of any crimes in conditions that were increasingly coming under critical international scrutiny.

The intent of this paper is to present a brief overview of Canada's policy of internment during the First World War and of the history of internment camps in the province of Quebec. Particular attention is devoted to the inspection reports filed by American consular officials on behalf of the Central Powers concerning the internment of their civilian subjects in Canada: a largely-unknown source of archival material on the camps.

Internment Begins

With the outbreak of war, a series of proclamations and orders in council were speedily drafted and enacted against immigrants from enemy countries. Within nine days of war being declared on 15 August 1914, all subjects of enemy countries were declared liable to arrest and detention, especially if they attempted to leave Canada. Those pursuing their normal occupations quietly were promised the law's protection and the respect and considerat ion due to peaceful law-abiding citizens. Anyone suspected of or found to be participating in proscribed activities; however, could be apprehended.

When authorities were not satisfied with the trustworthiness of enemy aliens who refused to report periodically or when parolees failed to abide by the terms of their parole, those apprehende d were liable to internment under guard of the Canadian militia. 1 The War Measures Act was enacted on 22 August 1914, giving the federal government sweeping emergency powers that enabled the cabinet to administer the war effort without accountability to Parliament or being subject to- existing legislation. This law also gave the government additional control over immigrants through powers of; media censorship, arrest, detention and deportation; and the expropriation, control and disposal of property. 2

By late October, growing unemployment and destitution among enemy aliens precipitated a new order-in-council authorizing the appointment of civilian registrars across Canada. All enemy aliens within twenty miles of a registrar's office were to register within one month of its opening, giving details as to age, nationality, place of residence, occupation, desire or intention to leave Canada, intention of military service and next of kin. Those registered were permitted to remain at large but were required to report monthly and carry special identification cards and travel documents. Aliens considered dangerous or indigent, along with those who failed to register, were interned as prisoners of war. 3

Between 1914-1920, receiving stations and permanent internment camps were established in twenty-four locations across the country. This network of camps was administered by the Internment Operations Branch in Ottawa under the direction of Major General Sir William D. Otter. The Branch reported to the Department of Justice, while the Department of Militia and Defence provided troops to guard the camps. Internment facilities ranged from tents, railway cars and bunkhouses to armouries, barracks, forts, exhibition buildings and rented factories. Some stations operated for a matter of months, while the camps at Vernon, British Columbia and Kapuskasing, Ontario lasted for over five years. 4

By Otter's own calculation, not more than 3,138 of the 8,579 who passed through the camps could be classified as prisoners of war i.e. "captured 'in arms' or belonging to enemy 'reserves'." Of this number, 817 had no prior connection with Canada, being German sailors and merchant seamen transferred for internment from Newfoundland and British colonies in the West Indies. Thus only 2,321 of the 7,762 internees from within Canada were bona fide prisoners of war. The rest were civilians who could be interned if considered to be either "agents" or of potential service to enemy powers. Although no accurate breakdown of ethnicity exists for those in the camps, only 1,192 Germans from within Canada were actually interned as opposed to 5,954 Austro-Hungarians. Among the latter, Ukrainians represented the largest ethnic element. 5

Beneath the rhetoric of public security, the main cause of internment of Ukrainians was their vulnerable economic position in Canadian society. Already suffering the effects of the pre-war depression, "aliens" were particularly prone to being laid off as industry slackened and employers displayed patriotic preference for "Canadian labour." 6 Unemployment among Ukrainians in the West and in cities across the country was reaching critical proportions. Internment camps became one solution to the problem of destitution. At the end of the winter of 1914-15, there were some 4,000 indigent internees, three-quarters of whom were Austrians." 7

Many Ukrainians were interned for attempting to enter the United States, without required documents in search of work. 8 Simply stating one's "intention to go to the U.S. without permission" was sufficient for internment. 9 Internment operation files contain numerous additional reasons for internment: these included refusing or failing to register; breaking parole; destroying registration cards; travelling without permission; registering under a false name; writing to relatives in Austria, and status as Austrian reservists.

Other reasons were less concrete, illustrating the broad discretionary power of the authorities: acting in a "very suspicious manner" or showing "a general tendency toward sedition"; using "seditious" or "intemperate " language; found hiding and destitute in a freight car; or being "unreliable," "of shiftless character" and "undesirable." 10 In the case of thirty-seven year old Austrian, Maftey Rotari, the official reason for internment was quite practical. Rotari was a carpenter's helper by occupation and his skills were required for construction of the camps. On his record of internment, the "cause of arrest" is registered as "Requests for Carpenters to build huts at Spirit Lake Camp." 11

The Camps

Once in the camps, prisoners were segregated into two classes according to occupation, previous military service and nationality. Generally better educated and treated as an officer class, as a group, German internees received preferred accommodation and rations, confinement in urban settings and were not compelled to do work unrelated to their own comfort, health and cleanliness. Amherst, Nova Scotia; Vernon, British Columbia and Fort Henry at Kingston, Ontario became the main detention points for German internees, although these camps also housed smaller numbers of Ukrainians and other Austrian prisoners. 12

In contrast, Ukrainians and other Austrian internees were assigned "second-class" status. Primarily unemployed workers, they were interned as far away as possible from major population centres, in primative work camps or isolated internment camps on the northern frontiers of settlement. In these camps, they were compelled to work for the Canadian Government, building roads, erecting and repairing buildings, and clearing and draining land. Internees received twenty-five cents a day, the equivalent of the supplement paid to Canadian soldiers for work outside their routine military duties. Where both first-class and second-class internees were confined within the same facilities, separate accommodations and job assignments were enforced.

On the Prairies, most "Austrian" internees were sent first to camps at Lethbridge, Alberta and Brandon, Manitoba which acted as assembly points before inmates were transferred to alternate camps across the country, where the pioneering type of labour to which they were directed was abundant. The "Austrian" component was particularly large at Spirit Lake, Quebec and at Petawawa and Kapuskasing in Ontario. A number of camps were also located in the interior of British Columbia and in the National Parks of the Rocky Mountains: Rocky Mountain (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Mount Revelstoke). 13

Internees had little protection from the corruption and brutality to which they were occasionally subjected. Several thousand dollars in cash and valuables, confiscated from internees at the Toronto internment centre, vanished without trace and with no charges laid. One of the commandants at Spirit Lake used internees to clear timber and open roads on colonization lots he and other family members had obtained adjacent to the camp. Complaints from internees of deliberate mistreatment by guards were not infrequent. At Vernon, an officer was found to have deliberately mistreated prisoners. After visiting the camp at Banff, even Otter was inclined to believe charges of bad and inadequate food and cruel punishments, such as being suspended by the wrists. 14

Quebec Internees

While the greater part of those Ukrainians arriving in Canada prior to the First World War was headed further west for agricultural settlement, many came specifically to work as labourers in the country's industrial centres. Montreal became a major pool of immigrant labour and at the outbreak of the war included the largest number of enemy aliens of any military district in Canada. 15 On the eve of the war, Montreal, along with Fort William and Winnipeg, was also one of the major concentrations of Ukrainian urban life in Canada.

Thousands were drawn to the city, either permanently or on a seasonal basis, by unskilled jobs in factories, construction, steel mills, foundries, railway shops, docks, stockyards and terminal elevators. During winters, the number of Ukrainians in Montreal, living primarily in tenement slums, rose to as many as 7,000. 16

Three months after Canada's entry into the European conflict, the former Austro-Hungarian Consul-General in Montreal, von Hannenheim, then residing in Buffalo, requested the American Consul-General in Ottawa, John G. Foster, to implement a relief plan for destitute Austrians and Hungarians in Canada. As von Hannenheim noted, factories which had employed large numbers of Austrians had closed and

... others have dismissed Austrian workmen from merely sentimental motives. Certain newspapers, preaching distrust and hinting without any material proofs at unlawful intentions of the majority of the Austrians have doubtless been instrumental in creating a general feeling of suspicion and even hatred which on account of their nationality makes it almost impossible for the unemployed among these Austrians to obtain remunerative occupations. This quite naturally creates a tendency among them to disguise their origin with the result of increasing suspicion, when the subterfuge is discovered. 17

Von Hannenheim pleaded that help be directed towards the large numbers of unemployed in the major industrial centres and that those not encumbered with Austrian military obligation be allowed greater freedom of movement in their search for employment. Work, food and shelter needed to be provided. The great majority of Austrian immigrants were farm labourers and the former consul-general suggested that the Departments of Agriculture and Immigration devise a scheme through which destitute labourers might be provided to farmers requiring their services. As well, a solution was devised through which the American consul, acting on behalf of the Imperial Austrian and Hungarian government, and administering funds provided through the Dominion of Canada, oversaw the welfare of indigent immigrants, until such time as they were transferred to internment camps. 18

The first internment station in Quebec was a holding facility established 13 August 1914, in the federal Immigration Building, at 172 St. Antoine Street, in Montreal. Prisoners were transferred from here to internment camps starting on 5 November, being shipped to Fort Henry at Kingston, Ontario and to the militia camp at Petawawa, one hundred sixty-six km northwest of Ottawa. From December 1914, till 5 January 1915, 364 "Austrians" were moved from Montreal to Petawawa. The Montreal station was initially under the command of Lt. Col. W.E. Date of the 17th Hussars, who subsequently at various times held command of the camps at Lethbridge, Kingston and Kapuskasing. Replacing Date at Montreal was Capt. R. D. Gurd, Canadian Army Medical Corp. 19

The armoury in Beauport, just east of Quebec City, was set up as the first permanent internment camp in the province. It was established on 28 December 1914 and operated until 22 June 1916. 20 During the winter of 1914-1915, interned male Austro-Hungarians and Germans were kept idle at the armoury as there was no outside work for them to perform. They were kept busy with physical drills and outdoor exercise. "The only complaint made was lack of work, which made the life of these men, accustomed to hard physical work, somewhat tedious." 21

In conjunction with this facility, a summer camp was operated at the Valcartier militia camp, forty kilometres northwest of Quebec City, between 24 April 1915 and 23 October 1915. Between April and August of 1915, the Beauport/Valcartier camp received 150 Austrian prisoners from Montreal, 23 from Nova Scotia and another 12 from Quebec City. During the summer of 1915, the American consul in Quebec City reported 94 paroled and 128 interned Austro-Hungarian prisoners in his district. At the Valcartier summer quarters, he noted that the "actual conditions of the prisoners is very good and they are cheerful and contented." Their employment consisted of digging ditches, laying pipes, building huts, road construction and keeping their quarters clean and tidy. Under military guard and direction, the prisoners worked ten hour days for which they received payments of twenty-five cents a day. 22

The American consul described the single migrant labourers who comprised the majority of paroled internees and noted the establishment of camps along ethnic lines:

The greater majority are laborers who are ... frequently out of work. The conditions under which these men live is one of squalor, but they seem satisfied with their lot as it is what they are accustomed to. When any of these men become destitute and are out of employment they report to the Divisional Intelligence Officer and are interned .... The separation of these nationals seems to have been caused by the apparent difference in education and intelligence. The Austro-Hungarians generally being of the poorer class of emigrants that have not had a fair chance in life. 23

At Valcartier, single German of "superior intelligence and ability" was left in charge of the interned Austrians, directing their work and accounting for their conduct. The Officers in Charge of the Valcartier Internment Camp, Majors B.L. O'Hara and J.F.T. Rinfret, were regarded "almost with affection" by the prisoners, in spite of the regimen of strict discipline and punishment.

That the exceptionally good and considerate treatment of these interned is due largely to the sense of fairness, justice and kindliness of the two military officers named, there can be no doubt, for under the same regulations and restrictions men of a less kindly disposition could make the lot of the interned, as well as of those still at liberty, very much less tolerable. 24

With the closure of the Valcartier internment camp on 23 October 1915, after six months of operation, 146 Austrians were transferred to Spirit Lake and Kingston. When Beauport was closed eight months later on 22 June 1916, seven Austrians were shipped to Kingston and another fourteen sent to Spirit Lake. Major (later Lt. Col.) J.F.T. Rinfret of the 87th Regiment, who was so highly praised in the consul's report, also transferred to Spirit Lake, where he took over from Lt. Col. J.W. Rodden, who then left for Kapuskasing. 25

Spirit Lake/Lac des Esprits

The largest internment camp in Quebec was built at Spirit Lake. The lake's name came from a Native Indian legend which told of a huge star appearing above the lake as a sign from the Great Spirit. In French, the lake was known as Lac Beauchamp. It was located seven and one-half kilometres west of Amos, in the heart of the Abitibi colonization district of northwest Quebec. Amos had been established in 1912, at the point where the Transcontinental railway crossed the Harricana River. Originally the camp was to be located about seventy-five kilometres to the east at Belcourt but the Amos Chamber of Commerce successfully lobbied to have it relocated. During the two years that the camp operated, over one quarter million dollars worth of business accrued to merchants in the town through government spending. The first 109 Austrian prisoners were shipped to Spirit Lake from Montreal in January of 1915. Another 518 arrived from Montreal during February and March. By the end of 1915, over 1,210 Austrians, primarily from Montreal (146 from Valcartier), had made the journey north. During 1916, more prisoners arrived from Petawawa (141), Beauport (14), Montreal (26), Kapuskasing (7), Toronto (20), Banff (6), and the Otter camp in the Rocky Mountains (118). 26

Most of the internees at Spirit Lake came from Montreal. The American consul-general. in Montreal, Wm. Harrison Pradley, estimated in February 1915 that 11,000 Austro-Hungarians resided in his consular district, including 9,000 men, 500 women and 1,500 children, compared to only 200 Germans and 45 Turks. Those apprehended "en route to the front or destitute from lack of work, which is impossible to procure," were at first interned at Montreal and later dispersed to the internment camps at Kingston (129), Petawawa (292) and Kapuskasing (500) in Ontario and finally to Spirit Lake, Quebec. The American consul-general noted that experimental farms being developed by the Department of Agriculture at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake would allow the internees to learn "the best methods of agriculture for this country as the season opens." 27

In the meantime, he provided soup kitghens for indigent Austrians and Germans and conducted house to house visitations where "practically all men were unemployed." He was feeding, clothing and, where necessary, housing or paying rent for several hundred families, nearly all Austro-Hungarians. The Canadian government provided money to cover these costs until houses were ready to receive them at the Spirit Lake camp. The consul-general painted a hopeful, if somewhat naive, picture of what awaited these families at Spirit Lake, where houses with gardens would provide women and children with a healthy contrast to the city slums they currently endured.

The men meanwhile, being occupied at outdoor work, under their own leaders, or in pursuing their various avocations in what will really be a large village without fence or wall except what the people may erect around their plots. Those who choose to stay after the war can take out arable land - 100 acres each - in the vicinity of the settlement on homestead terms and have the proximity and example of the model farms in the neighborhood to assist them. 28

In the spring of 1915, Consul-general Pradley reported continued unemployment among thousands of registered Austrian aliens in his district. The Dominion Government was working hard to complete buildings at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake for housing more men, as well as the 400 destitute families for whose food, clothing and housing "in the cheap quarters of the city" he was responsible. He noted that "destitute men are moved as fast as barracks are ready, to one of the camps." At Spirit Lake, 700 men were at work clearing ground for the government model farm and building log cabins which were to be given to: "such of the families as choose to settle there after the war. Any man can at any time, as the Spring opens, take up one hundred acres of land in the country around the Lake." 29

On 19 April the first group of twenty married couples and children, ninety-two people in total, nearly all Ukrainian Catholics, departed Montreal to Spirit Lake by train.

I also arranged, as they desired, for a Ruthenian Priest to go with them and on request from the Camp, hunted up a lithographic picture of the Byzantine tvpe of the Madonna, which went with them, for their little log chapel. 30

A further fifty to one hundred families had applied to Pradley to be sent from Montreal to Spirit Lake as housing became available.

Pradley commented on his ongoing responsibility for helping the Montreal families whose welfare was "almost entirely" on his shoulders. His staff was hard pressed to keep up with "innumerable questions from aliens of the different nationalities," few of whom spoke English but rather only the "dialects or languages of Eastern Austria." He clearly expressed the frustrations of his situation: "They are an ignorant quarrelsome set of children and even the better class of them are in constant turmoil". 31

Five months later, in September of 1915, Consul-General Pradley continued to administer food, clothing and care to 100 families, down from the 500 or 600 families he had administered to previously, as the employment situation in Montreal and other centres improved. 32 While the services offered by American consular officials to unemployed immigrants appeared to be waning, they were increasingly called upon to inspect the camps to which their previous charges had been sent. In the autumn of 1915, the American Consulate-General dispatched Vice-Consul O. Gaylord Marsh to the camps at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake, to inquire into allegations of mistreatment and to report on conditions in general. Marsh's inspection gave a detailed picture of Spirit Lake and his report was the first filed on the camp by a foreign official.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Rodden was in charge of the camp and commanded nine officers, thirty-two non-commissioned officers, one Hundred and thirty-six guards and eight civilians. 33

Marsh noted that the main prison camp was located on the northeast shore of Spirit Lake, one and one half kilometres west of the railway station by the same name. Separating the camp from the lake was the transcontinental railway line. At the head of the camp, on a height of rocky ground sloping down towards the lake, stood the officers' quarters, a log and board bungalow flanked on one side by an officers' mess and on the other by a gymnasium. To the south, along the western and eastern perimeters of the camp, were a total of ten 3Ox78 foot prisoners' bunkhouses, each capable of accommodating 104 prisoners for a total capacity of 1,040 prisoners. At the camp's centre was a large parade ground around which stood two soldiers' barracks, a guardhouse, stores, a commissariat, cookhouse and office. The perimeter of the camp was surrounded by a high wire fence with large lamps at each corner. The gates were closed at night to prevent escapes,

... a precaution which is quite in the interests of the prisoners on account of the peril to those who attempt, unprovisioned and unguided, to pass through this great and densely forested country, abounding in large lakes and large swift rivers. 34

The prisoners' bunks were constructed of spruce boards covered with a layer of spruce fibre and roofing paper. Double floors lined with spruce fibre rested two feet above the ground on stone foundations. Each prisoner was issued five blankets to be used on two-tiered wooden bunks with spruce boughs for mattresses. Barracks contained two 40-inch lumberman's stoves for heating and two rows of dining tables and benches. Captains were assigned within each barrack from "the more intelligent men."

A cookhouse of construction similar to the barracks, containing five large ranges, was provided for each five bunkhouses as was an outhouse accommodating twenty men.

Every prisoner received a soft felt hat, a fur lined cap, two inside and two outside woollen shirts, a canvas, sheepskin or mackinaw coat, working trousers, two suits of woollen underwear, two pairs of heavy woollen socks, a pair of woollen gloves with leather pullovers, army boots and winter moccasins.

A log guardhouse contained thirteen 4x8 foot jail cells. Prisoner correspondence was permitted, subject to clearance by censors. Evening classes three times a week were offered in geography, farming and English for those interested and plans were being laid to open a suitable school for children at the camp.

Prisoners worked from 7:30 a.m. until noon and then from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30, either in clearing and draining land or in camp duty in a number of camp facilities: bakery, shoe shop, harness shop, carpenter shop, cabinet shop, tailor shop, blacksmith shop and basket-weaving shop. Work also included the construction of camp buildings, the clearing of about 500 acres of land and road construction. For each day of work, prisoners were credited twenty-five cents, which could be spent at a canteen stocked with tobacco, candies, groceries, paper, ink, pens and other goods. A field was provided for football, baseball and other games. Boating and fishing were allowed and Sundays consisted of an hour-long exercise walk followed by church attendance, playing games or visiting at the married prisoners' village.

The overwhelmingly "Austrian" population of the camp was noted. On 6 October, not a single German was in the camp compared to 3 Turks and 1,135 "Austro-Hungarians" of the"laboring class," including 67 women and 114 children. Although the report did not give details on ethnicity within the camp, it did confirm the existence of the Ukrainian ("Ruthenian") chapel alluded to in Pradley's earlier correspondence:

A comfortable log Roman Catholic Church has been constructed and furnished with benches, altars, etc. An Austrian priest has been living in the village, and has had charge of the church services, but he is absent on leave at the present time. 35

South of the main camp was a cemetery enclosed by a rail fence and marked by a large concrete cross "consecrated by a Ruthenian bishop." At the time of Marsh's inspection, the cemetery included three interments: two young babies and one adult had died of typhoid contracted prior to entering the camp. Individual graves were marked with cedar crosses bearing the names of the deceased. In total, nineteen prisoners were buried in the cemetery, while two children were reinterred in the parish cemetery at Amos. 36

One and one-half kilometres from the main camp, past the cemetery, was the married prisoners' village consisting of several shops and log bunkhouses, similar to those in the main camp, accommodating from one to four families. Nearing completion was an apartment building capable of housing twenty married couples without children. Married prisoners were permitted to bring along any furniture, bedding or rugs they owned to the camp to outfit their quarters. Men in the village were subject to the same work regimen as the main camp.

Health care for prisoners and camp personnel was provided at a hospital located on a small hill overlooking the lake, half a kilometre west of the main camp. The hospital included rooms for reception, consultation, examining, operating, dispensing, kitchen, general ward and two private wards. Medical staff included a Senior Medical Officer, an Assistant Medical Officer, a Dispensing Clerk, Hospital Sergeant, Hospital Corporal, Sanitary Sergeant and nine assistants. The Marsh report noted that the health of the camp had been and continued to be excellent. The long and cold winters and short summers saw temperatures fluctuate between nintey-four degrees Fahrenheit and forty-nine degrees below zero, offering a "very healthful" climate.

Although Marsh's report alluded to numerous escape attempts — three of which had been successful -— neither his report nor Otter's final report on internment adequately recorded the incidence of escapes at Spirit Lake and across Canada. Escape was quite common, resulting in many prisoners failing to be recaptured, as well as an occasional casualty and rare death. In Quebec, two fatalities occurred during escape attempts. John Bauzek died of gunshot wounds in Montreal in May of 1915. On 7 June of the same year, Iwan Gregoraszczuk, an escaper from Spirit Lake, was shot to death by a farmer after having travelled 100 kilometres to La Sarre near the Ontario border. The farmer who killed him, subsequently received a jail sentence. 37

In conclusion, March offered these general remarks on conditions at Spirit Lake:

Sanitary and health conditions are excellent; the food is substantial, abundant, and wholesome; living and sleeping quarters while necessarily plain, are comfortable; the prisoners are not overworked, and are given reasonable consideration; clothing is ample in quantity and comfort; and the prisoners are as cheerful as their somewhat restrained position, as prisoners of war, could well make possible. 38

The Community Reacts

Not everyone took so optimistic a view, however, and the plight of internees did not go unnoticed by the community outside of the camps. The clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church made regular visitations to the camps. Father Ivan Perepelytsia of Montreal instructed the internees at Spirit Lake to erect a chapel for the celebration of the Liturgy. 39

Montreal's Rev. Dr. Amvrozii Redkevych made a tour of the camps in June of 1915. 40 His mission was of a strictly spiritual nature and he did not attempt to criticize authorities for the unnecessary imprisoment of his flock. Redkevych travelled at the request of the government and with Bishop Nykyta Budka's blessings, to Brandon, Kapuskasing, and Spirit Lake, conducting services, delivering sermons, celebrating mass and hearing confession. He heard 1,099 penitents, blessed the chapel and cemetery at Spirit Lake and paid glowing tribute to those in charge of the camps.

[I] express in the name of these interned Aliens, the cordial thanks for the care which is bestowed on them by the Government and by the Military Authorities generally Their food is nutritive and wholesome and the camps are spacious and well-ventilated I am particularly thankful to the officers in charge of the Detention Camps for the way in which the prisoners are treated it is my intention to express our thanks for this treatment in our Ruthenian papers in Canada. 41

Despite these soothing remarks to the authorities, Redkevych was in fact troubled by the fate of his parishioners and took part in efforts to secure their release. He complained that the situation in Montreal was odious and that internment was due to malicious Russophile rumours discrediting the loyalty of Ukrainians. 42 He was a member of the Committee of Ukrainians of Eastern Canada, which petitioned Ottawa about the treatment of Ukrainians. The Committee eventually formed the Ukrainian National League which worked with the Ukrainian Canadian Citizenship Committee and met with government officials to discuss internment, citizenship rights and changes to the naturalization act. 43

The approach of January in 1916, meant that thousands across Canada would be spending the traditional period of Ukrainian Christmas confined within internment camps. This festive period became the focus of a community-wide effort to ease the trauma of the internees. The Ukrainskyi Holos (Ukrainian Voice) newspaper coordinated an effort to send Christmas parcels to Ukrainians in the camps: "into which fate has cast them through no fault of their own, but because the times commanded it." 44 The Catholic Kanadyiskyi Rusyn (Canadian Ruthenian) urged its readers not to forget those unfortunates who would be singing Ukrainian carols in the camps while the rest of the community would be gathering around family tables for Christmas Eve dinner. It proposed that money be collected so that every Ukrainian internee could be presented with a Christmas gift of fruit and tobacco. Through this campaign parcels were received by Ukrainian prisoners at Brandon, Petawawa, Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake. 45

The Strike

Although civilians, Ukrainian internees were subject to the laws and regulations of the Canadian military as outlined by the Rules of the Hague Convention. They could be fired upon if attempting to escape and were subject to a variety of disciplinary punishment for crimes, misdemeanours or insubordination. Reduced rations, solitary confinement in unheated isolation cells, and hard labour were the most common punishment.

The conduct sheet of Gawryl Semeniuk(#449) at Spirit Lake gives some insight into the strict regimen the prisoners were required to observe and the disciplinary actions they were subjected to. During a one-year period, Semeniuk was punished on seven occasions for loafing and refusing to work. His punishment consisted of confinement for as long as six days on rations of bread and water, as well as hard labour. His last offence, "loafing in the latrine," earned him "nine days confinement, three days alternate bread and water, plus eight hours of hard labour daily." The record of Stefan Galan (#12) revealed a similar level of punishment. On 3 June 1915, for the offence of "Loafing, insolence and interfering with other POWs in their work," Galan received "15 days confinement, bread and water every third day, eight hours hard labour every day." 46

Relations at Spirit Lake were never as tranquil as the Marsh and Redkevych reports implied and by the autumn of 1916, the situation had deteriorated to a critical level. Throughout Canada, internees were asserting their rights under the Hague Convention and refusing to perform any labour other than that required for their own well-being.

The camps in the Rocky Mountains were plagued by work stoppages and protests by prisoners who complained, among other things, of brutality and torture on the part of the military. During the fall of 1916, many of these mountain camps were closed down as the conditions within them became the subject of diplomatic protest by the Austro-Hungarian and German governments. Many of the prisoners from these camps were subsequently transferred to Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake where their militancy led to a major crisis. 47

G. Willrich, U.S. Consul at Quebec City, inspected Spirit Lake between 16-21 November 1916 and commented directly on the deteriorating situation there. At the time of his visit, the camp held just 275 prisoners; far fewer than its peak population of 4 Turkish, 13 German and 1,295 "Austrian" prisoners earlier that year. 48

Willrich prefaced his rather critical report on conditions at Spirit Lake with a statement of his personal attitude towards the camp authorities and interned prisoners. He noted his "most-friendly" relations with the commanding officer, Rinfret, and remarked that he had previously commended highly conditions at Beauport and Valcartier when those camps had been commanded by that officer:

Being of German birth, I naturally felt, that an inspection by me should be made so as to avoid the least partiality, or bias for the prisoners, some of them at least of my own race, but with the sole object of leaming the facts and of arriving at a just conclusion regarding existing conditions; with a view, moreover, if possible, of making proper recommendations for the amelioration of such as I might consider capable of same.... If the following report, therefore, shall be less commendatory than those of former inspections, it is not due to any change of disposition on my part, but to greatly changed conditions in which I found the prisoners at this camp. 49

Consul Willrich saw the camp as set in country "practically a wilderness" with only sporadic "incipient" settlements, its location being "inspired by the desire to establish somewhere in this region an experimental farm, to show just what crops might grow in this high northern latitude and to ascertain the best methods to grow them."

Prisoners had been transferred from a number of other camps across Canada to undertake the "hard work of clearing the land of trees and underbrush, to remove the thick layers of moss which cover the low lands, to drain them, to build suitable farm and camp buildings and to plant, cultivate, and harvest such crops as might be raised." Several hundred acres of land had been cleared, drained and brought under cultivation. Thousands of cords of pulpwood had been cut, of which about 1,000 cords were piled near the railroad track awaiting shipment. The physical structures of the camp were reviewed, Willrich noting that a new barbed wire fence was being erected along the interior lines of the camp requiring labour that "might have been utilized more properly at the time, in the completion of prisoners' sheds, which I found to be in a unfinished state, therefore, insufficient to afford proper shelter and protection against the cold."

The 275 prisoners remaining in the camp consisted of 255 "Austrians," along with ten Bulgarians, eight Germans and two Turks. The prisoners were housed in five barracks or "shacks," as well as in the general hospital and a second hospital for tuberculosis patients. They were segregated according to their attitude towards the strike then gripping the camp. Begun in October by newly-arrived prisoners, the strike quickly enveloped almost the entire camp population. Of the Austrian inmates, 210 of 255 were on strike. Only forty-eight inmates in the camp were willing to work. The eight German prisoners who refused to join the strike occupied a shack of their own, as did the several dozen Austrian and miscellaneous prisoners willing to work. By contrast, the striking prisoners were housed seventy to a shed in Shacks No. 1, 3 and 5.

Conditions in Shack No. 5 which contained Austrians from all parts of that empire but "mostly from Galicia" were typical. Upon being introduced to its occupants as the American consul responsible for evaluating their condition and hearing any of their complaints, Willrich was "at once almost overwhelmed by these." He found their condition to be "a most deplorable one" with the prisoners "huddled together like a herd of sheep in winter — cold and shivering from exposure." The structure was drafty and cold, the rough lumber construction covered on the outside only with tar paper, and having a rough board floor, six inches from the ground. — The shack lacked a ceiling and contained only a single unlit stove.

Nevertheless, prisoners were unyielding in their refusal to work even to fetch wood to cook food or heat their quarters. This, however, they refused to do, on the grounds that as civil prisoners they were entitled to receive wood and rations, though unwilling to work, and that they would rather freeze to death than go out and get their own wood, pointing out, that both wood and full rations were being furnished by the Commandant to the working prisoners, while they were deprived of these necessaries because they had refused to work, which they believed they were not obliged to do, under the law. 50

Willrich himself, with a team and wagon, went from shed to shed requesting that men join him to bring in sufficient wood for the time being, but not a single prisoner responded.

The camp prison was also inspected by Willrich who found it to be a solidly built 3Ox75 foot blockhouse containing 3-1/2 x 7-1/2 foot scantily lit, "practically dark," cells. At the time of his inspection, there were four prisoners in the lockup, charged with inciting their fellow prisoners to continue the strike. Prisoners complained that at times they were held two or three in these cells, though this was denied by the Commandant. 51

Prisoner Complaints

On the second day of his visit, Willrich chaired a hearing of prisoner complaints and received a crudely worded petition from a committee of striking prisoners in "War Shack No. 5" outlining their complaints. Karl Krauss, a German prisoner, acted as spokesman for the primarily Austrian prisoners, "most of them greatly his inferiors in education." The prisoners complained that they were denied both wood to heat their shack and proper rations. Moreover, they received only three blankets for bedding on beds without mattresses, in accommodations that were cold, wet and drafty. They were also denied access to the canteen where they previously could obtain the sundries required for proper hygiene. The prisoners complained that they were "badly treated in every way, even beaten, and [with] no freedom whatever" and asked that the consul inquire monthly as to their well-being.

Consul Willrich concurred that the prisoners in Shack No. 5 were "in a truly pitiable condition, without heat in their poorly constructed shack, and without properly cooked food." With no wood for heating or cooking, the striking prisoners had "been eating their meats uncooked for weeks and had suffered greatly from exposure to cold, in their poorly-constructed sheds." Although General Otter in Ottawa authorized prisoners to procure wood for their own use, while refusing to do other work, the strikers at Spirit Lake rejected this compromise. They maintained that in the camps from which they had been transferred, they had full rations and wood without being compelled to work:

They also pointed to the fact, that plenty of wood had been cut by the prisoners at this camp, of which many cords were still piled near the camp, which therefore, could be readily furnished them without subjecting them to the severe task of getting fire-wood during the severe winter months prevalent in that region .... They also maintained that such wood as they might get for their own use would be diverted to the use of the Camp in general. 52

Willrich stressed that the prisoners firmly believed themselves in the right and that nothing would induce them to abandon their position: they would rather freeze or starve to death, than go to work under existing circumstances, and for the wages offered them."

Other complaints pertained to rations of inedible bacon, bad meat and frozen food. Even in the working prisoners' shack, Willrich found meat "left untouched because of the smell." No mattresses or bedding outside of blankets was supplied to prisoners, a situation the consul felt uselessly severe and "wholly inadequate, as claimed by the prisoners, to keep them from freezing in that cold climate." The bedding of soldiers was of the same quality but the striking prisoners refused to go into the woods to cut spruce boughs for mattresses on the same grounds that they boycotted the rest of their work. Willrich noted with some irony that while there were many bales of straw in the camp barn which might have been used for bedding, it was "needed apparently as bedding for a goodly number of horses, which certainly were well housed and cared for."

Prisoners also complained that their shacks could not protect them from the harsh northern winters at Spirit Lake where the temperature fell to 40-60 degrees below zero Farenheit. The camp commandant conceded as much and claimed that he was attempting to bring the shacks up to standard where they were inadequately finished or sealed. Prisoners replied that as the camp had been in operation for some two years, this work should have been a priority item completed long ago. Instead they had been compelled to perform a vast amount of work "other than that calculated to insure to their own benefit" and the current Commandant's intentions were too late "to prevent present suffering." Willrich again appeared to concur with this view of inadequate housing, washroom, and recreational facilities:

It did appear, that a great deal of work even of an ornamental character had been performed by the prisoners during the past two years — as ornamental walks, stone walls neatly dividing sections of the camp and stone steps leading up to the officers' quarters, had been built evidently at great cost in time and labour — which, if applied to the erection of good, substantial, prisoners'quarters, would long since have left no room for complaints about their poor condition.... 53

During prisoner testimony regarding improper treatment by authorities, Willrich objected to what seemed "an undue attempt, on the part of the officers present, to prevent a free presentation of such testimony as the prisoners desired to make," leading him to request and obtain permission from General Otter to examine prisoners privately. This enabled Willrich to "hear many complaints which otherwise might not have reached" him.

Most complaints about bad treatment related to the conduct of subordinate officers, "as is often the case when men of inferior intelligence are invested with autocratic powers":

The man charged with police authority at this camp, I found, had exercised his authority in a rather brutal way, under the mistaken notion, that these prisoners were criminals rather than unfortunate solely through circumstances. Petty annoyances, loss of small liberties, even physical punishment had thus apparently resulted solely to gratify the petty officers' rather brutal instincts. When taken to task for this privately and in a kindly manner, he admitted his fault, and promised to do better. 54

Striking prisoners were denied correspondence privileges and complained that they were also refused medical care. While Willrich commended the excellence of hospital facilities, he appeared to accept as truth complaints made against the Chief Medical Officer who seemed to have "discriminated between prisoners, working and not working, giving medical attention to the former and refusing the same to the latter. The testimony was too universal on this point to doubt the truth of this serious charge." The physician denied these charges claiming that striking prisoners were shamming illness to get to a warm place.

The camp hospital had treated two hundred seventy-two prisoner cases from the time of the camp's opening. Surgical cases formed the largest group of treatments and reflected the harsh working conditions at the camp:

... injuries received by prisoners while working in a rossing mill, erected near the camp, causing a frequent loss of fingers and other injuries incident to that rather dangerous employment; also due to frozen hands and feet of prisoners engaged in getting out wood during the winter months. The low mortality at the camp seemed to show, that despite the exposure and hardships of which the prisoners complained, deaths from these causes have been rare. 55

Eight prisoners had died at the camp, six succumbed to tuberculosis, one to typhoid and one to chronic nephritis.

Experience of Ukrainians

Perhaps the most valuable portion of Willrich's report was his documentation of individual prisoner's complaints. It is here that one sense of the personal experiences of Ukrainians who were swept up by internment operations in Canada and their determination along other prisoners to refuse further labour in the camps.

POW # 267Y, Harry Kruczelnicky, declared unequivocally that "As Govenunent took me prisoner, Government should provide for me. Will not go to work." Prisoner Jokowys, #335, asserted: "Have worked twenty-three months for nothing. Will rather die now than work longer." prisoner Ivan Jacyscyn, # 178Y, pleaded "Can work no more. Have rheumatism and have seen the doctor. Doctor told me to get out, because I did not work; that he had no medicine for men who have rheumatism and refuse to work."

Nicola Nachamko, # 1019, complained "beef stinks, potatoes are not good, bed is bad, never slept in such a place before." Ivan Rachmisbreck, # 24, stated that he always worked well since his imprisonment at Spirit Lake in January 1915 but "I have worked too long for the Government and now do not get enough to eat. Did not get enough to eat before I quit work and now get less. Now will not work. There were one thousand five hundred men who cut wood — there ought to be enough." Oftude Boka, # 908, came to Montreal in 1912 and had been kept at Spirit Lake for a year: "Do not want to work any more, did not get enough to eat. Corporal hit me, nobody lets me see the Colonel, nor the orderly officer. Worked all winter getting wood on sleighs, and when sick, was not permitted to go to the hospital. Do not care whether I die or not." Hassan Taliman, # 1052, declared simply, "No work because no pay."

The most compelling case to appear before Consul Willrich was POW # 1100, H. Domytryk, a father of four children (aged nine, seven, two and a half, and one), who was arrested in March of 1916 in Edmonton where he worked for the Swift Packing Company and was paying off a small house he had purchased. Forced to leave his family with but a few dollars to live on, Domytryk was initially interned at Lethbridge and later transferred to Spirit Lake, over two thousand five hundred kilometres away from his home and family. The prisoner feared that his wife was forced to beg for bread and that his children were starving and suffering from exposure in their small house. Willrich described his first meeting with Domytryk when the "poor father" handed him a "pathetic letter" written in English by his eldest child, nine year-old daughter Katie.

My dear father:

We havent nothing to eat and they do not want to give us no wood. My mother has to go four times to get someething to eat. It is better with you, because we had everything to eat. This shack is no good, my mother is going down town every day and I have to go with her and I don't go to school at winter. It is cold in that shack. We your small children Kiss your hands my dear father. Goodby my dear father. Come home right away.

Katie Domytryk 56

Willrich concluded that the problem at Spirit Lake and other Canadian camps was the lack of any clear understanding on whether prisoners under military law could be compelled to work. If labor was not compulsory, then the punishments inflicted "were not justified, and the men should have their full rations and be furnished the comfort they now lack and which at the time of my visit made their condition a deplorable one." He felt that the men would persist a long time in fighting for what they considered their rights under law even though "half rations may impair their strength, refusal of medicine increase their ailments, and absence of fuel increase their discomfort, even lead to serious disease." He suggested the possible payment of going rates to prisoners in order to clear up the impasse and consequent sense of "injury, injustice and suffering." Anticipating any comparison to Canadian prisoners of war in Europe, Willrich stressed the civilian nature of the prisoners in Canada and summarized the contradictions and problems of Canada's internment policies:

Canadians are not in Germany or Austria-Hungary ... at the invitation of those countries, but are there as prisoners of war, captured in battle. The prisoners in Canadian Internment Camps, on the other hand, came to the Dominion as peaceful emigrants and the great majority of them at least have been good, law-abiding residents since their arrival, doing their bit to further the development of its great resources. In other words, these men now held as prisoners, as a class, are good, sturdy, inoffensive men, able and willing to work, most of them desirous of becoming Canadian citizens. The idea, therefore, of a treatment of such men as quasi-criminals seems contrary to the very best interests of the Dominion, and the temporary saving, which may be effected by the payment, or rather allowance, of such pittance as 25 cents per day for a full day's work, not even payable to them or to their families in full, seems to be as inexpedient as unjust, the former because men will not render a day's work for that amount, even when pretending to do so; unjust because most of these men had good profitable work prior to their internment and families to support, which now are punished more than they are. 57

The unsatisfactory conditions in Canada's internment camps, in Willrich's opinion, reflected the government's inability to find a proper and equitable method of guarding national interests a gainst the presence of thousands of residents of foreign birth from enemy countries. Although "deeply agitated and aroused" by its participation in the war, the country could not afford to treat all those interned within its borders as enemies "considering the circumstances under which they were invited to come to Canada." A consistent policy in the administration of the camps was required which would be both "just to the prisoner and to the Dominion."

There is no doubt in my mind, that at the present moment, the great majority of the prisoners at Spirit lake could safely be returned to their homes and families, and that such return would be more profitable to Canada in the end than their retention in the camps as unwilling workers or strikers .... 58

Other Ukrainians

The irony of the treatment of Ukrainian and other internees, as noted by Willrich's perceptive report, was that while thousands of Ukrainians were interned in Canada as enemy aliens, perhaps an equal number, both naturalized and not, served with the Canadian military in Europe. Proscriptions against such enlistment specified that un-naturalized immigrants from Austro-Hungary were not permitted to serve in any branches of the Canadian forces while those naturalized were allowed to serve in Canada only.

Those Ukrainians who had come from the Russian Empire were obligated for European service, whether naturalized or not, and approximately two thousand of them served in Europe. 59 Philip Konoval was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest order in the British Empire, for his "most conspicuous bravery and leadership" during battle. 60

Thousands of others, for whom enlistment was forbidden, registered as Russians, Poles and Bohemians, or anglicized their names in order to serve. Many of these volunteers died overseas. Thousands served with Canadian Forestry Division units in England, Scotland and France where some of the forestry camps were as high as 70 per cent Ukrainian in composition. 61

Hundreds of Ukrainians enlisted at points within Quebec. While Henry and Feodor Romaniuk were interned at Spirit Lake, a namesake, Pte. Roman Romaniuk, who enlisted at Montreal, was killed in action in France on 15 September 1916 while serving with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. Pte. Trofim Jourinski of the 19th Battalion, who enlisted at Quebec, was killed in action the same day and Pte. Feodosy Michorod of the 49th Battalion, a Montreal enlistee, was missing in action.

A member of Romaniuk's unit, Pte. Semen Semchenko was killed in action the next day. 62 In a number of cases, Ukrainians who had successfully enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force were subsequently discharged as enemy aliens and interned. Pte. Nick Derryck of the lst Canadian contingent of the CEF was one such case. He was discharged and interned first at Amherst, Nova Scotia, then at Valcartier and finally at Kapuskasing. 63


The massive flow of manpower into the Canadian military was a major factor in the release of internees back into the workforce as paroled labourers. As manpower shortages in critical industries became apparent, the futility of keeping innocent and able workers in a punitive and less than productive setting became abundantly clear.

Spirit Lake camp emptied during the summer of 1916. Over six hundred men were paroled to a number of large corporations: 32 to the Minto Coal Co. of New Brunswick, 43 to the Asbestos Corporation, 50 to the Canadian National Railway, 100 to the Transcontinental National Railway, 172 to the Canadian Pacific Railway, and 219 to the Welland Ship Canal. Others were released to smaller companies and individuals such as the General Bakery and the Universal Importing Co. (J. Friedman) in Montreal; Campbell and Forbes in Amos Quebec, and a Mr. Bernard at Harricana. 64 Some two hundred of the Ukrainian prisoners at Spirit Lake were shipped to work in the steel mills and coal mines of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton. Years later, the employment cards of paroled internees Sainiuk and Shewchuk at the Sydney steel mills still made note of the fact that they had arrived as prisoners of war from "concentration camps." A member of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party from Lachine, J. Drobei, was released from Spirit Lake after eighteen months to take up work in a Sydney steel Mill. 65

While the employment of paroled prisoners was to be on the same basis as other employees, in many cases it meant continued separation from families and further restrictions on mobility. Many of those paroled were sent to isolated work gangs in northern Ontario, which they were not allowed to leave without special authorization. The hard labour, extreme isolation and primitive conditions within these work camps made them almost as oppressive as the internment camps from which the men had been paroled. General Otter received numerous letters from paroled Ukrainian internees serving on railroad crews, asking for permission to rejoin their families. A number, working on the railroad at Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, complained of the confusion surrounding their status. Writing in Ukrainian, Nick Bodnar asked Otter to issue a registry card which would allow him to go to his relatives in Montreal, whom he had not seen in three years. The translated letter read:

... here the police authorities do not permit to leave, they say that if I leave without a registry card I will be sentenced to six months. I am not looking for anything like that, I want to abide by the law of the land. If you, Sir General, gave me freedom I do not see why I should be punished when I wish to go without a registry card. I request you, Sir General, this favour." 66

A further hindrance to the paroled release of internees was the occasional reluctance on the part of government agencies to give up their supply of cheap labor. The Director-General of Experimental Farms, M. Grisdale, protested against the depletion of internee labour at the farms in northern Ontario and Quebec. Despite this resistance, the decision was made to close the Spirit Lake camp in November of 1916. On 11 January 1917, 178 remaining prisoners were shipped to Kapuskasing for continued internment. On 28 January, the militia closed its operation at Spirit Lake under the direction of Lt. G.W. Meldrum. Farm equipment and facilities were handed over to the federal Department of Agriculture, the kitchen facilities shipped to the camp at Vernon, B.C. and hospital staff and facilities were transferred to Kapuskasing. 67

The closing of Spirit Lake meant that the facility at Montreal was the only remaining site in Quebec for the holding of enemy aliens destined for internment at Kingston and Kapuskasing in Ontario. The lockup rarely held more than twenty prisoners and often held none at all. 68 There was, however, a brief flurry of activity during the summer of 1918 when authorities turned their attention towards the apprehension and detention of "radical" enemy aliens.


By 1918, the social and political climate of Canada had changed significantly as increasing numbers of demobilized soldiers returned from Europe. Rising class consciousness began to lead to stubborn conflicts between labour and capital.

The anti-foreigner sentiments, which had heightened during the war, shifted towards the domestic economic front with the non-British being blamed for economic unrest and political radicalism. Consequently, new legislation was enacted to investigate, incarcerate and possibly deport hostile or undesirable aliens. Publications appearing in twelve "enemy" languages, including Ukrainian, were prohibited briefly and then some only allowed with parallel translations. Fourteen radical organizations, including the Ukrainian affiliate of the Social Democratic Party of Canada, were outlawed and all meetings (other than religious services) conducted in Finnish, Russian or Ukrainian were banned, as were strikes and lockouts. 69

Ukrainians in Quebec were not spared during this push to control radicalism. Starting in May 1918, Ukrainian Social Democratic branches in Ontario (Ottawa, Timmins, Brantford) and Montreal in Quebec were raided, with printed materials being confiscated and many un-naturalized members shipped to Kapuskasing for internment. 70 In Montreal, Ivan Hnyda, who established and ran the Novyi Svit (New World) publication and print shop, first for the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party and later as an independent voice of Ukrainian workers, had his establishment at 173 Clark Street padlocked. Hnyda came to the attention of authorities because of a pamphlet he had printed for the Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party calling working men and women to celebrate May Day so that: "the holy words of the proletariat as to equality, brotherhood, liberty and happiness of the whole of mankind will be cried out on the 1st of May." 71

The Secretary of State of Canada, pursuant to the order-in-council on censorship, authorized the Dominion Police in Montreal to seize and destroy all copies of the leaflet, to seize the printing presses, plant and machinery used to print, publish and distribute it and to close indefinitely the premises where the presses were located. 72 Arrested in May 1918, Hnyda was imprisoned in Montreal until August, when he was transferred in chains and under heavy guard, along with dozens of other Ukrainians from across Canada, to the internment camp at Kapuskasing. Released from captivity on 9 January 1920, Hnyda returned to Montreal to find that his shop had been turned over to a barber and all of his books and papers recycled at a paper factory. 73

With this flurry of activity directed against radical aliens having passed, the Montreal internment station was finally closed on 30 November 1918. The camps at Vernon, B.C. and Kapuskasing, Ontario continued, however, to operate until February of 1920. 74


The internment of Ukrainians in Canada during the Great War was prompted less by their having constituted a military or security threat than a combination of wartime nativism and conditions of economic and political crises. The result was the enactment of restrictive laws and the detention of several thousand people under conditions which did not always meet the requirements governing the internment of civilian non-combatants in times of war. While the inclusion of Ukrainians and other immigrants into a prisoner-of-war status should have provided them with some measure of protective security, what they received instead was punitive incarceration and a regime of forced labour on behalf of the Canadian state. Restrictions and inconveniences were inevitable during the cataclysm of a world war but the unnecessary limitation of liberties, the unjustifiable severity of punishments, the ill-treatment and indignities which were part of Canada's internment operations during the World War cannot be ignored and stand as a harsh reminder of how fragile human rights and civil liberties are in times of crisis.

Very little physical evidence remains today to tell of those operations. At Spirit Lake, the federal farm built by internees continues to operate. The prisoners' cemetery is still evident with black crosses marking the spots of those who were laid to rest there. 75 The "Ruthenian" chapel built by the prisoners burned down during a fire that swept through the area in 1920. 76 When the Internment Operations Branch wrapped up its records, financial accounts relating to cash seized from internees as well as accounts for unpaid earnings were left on deposit with the Bank of Canada. For Spirit Lake camp, a total of two hundred fifteen prisoners had an outstanding cash account of three hundred eighty-five dollars and 46 cents and unpaid earnings of nine thousand five hundred ten dollars and 17 cents, the equivalent of thousands of man-months of labour. 77

There is no monument at Spirit Lake explaining how and why over a thousand Ukrainians and other immigrants - men, women and children - had been imprisoned there. The story of these people, whose hope and belief in a new land of opportunity could not withstand the mistrust and fear fanned by the ill winds of war, is still little known and even less appreciated. A novel, written about the Abitibi region, noted that, long after the war, the forests at Spirit Lake evoked a heavy emotional quality which betrayed the unspoken and terrible events which had taken place within its confines. 78

In 1992, almost eight decades after the tragic events at Spirit Lake, Mary Haskett, the last known survivor of the Ukrainians interned there, spoke sadly of her childhood memories and of the loss of her two-year-old sister, Carolka Manko, who died in May of 1915 and was laid to rest there. Her words of remembrance are perhaps the best epitaph for the people who were confined within the barbed wire fences at Spirit Lake and across Canada during the First World War:

They were just ordinary farm folks, I guess.
They thought they'd try their luck at a bigger country ....
But the dream fell apart. 79

Barbed Wire


1 Privy Council Order No. 2150, 15 August, 1914; or Frances Swyripa and John Herd Thompson (eds.), Loyalties in Conflict: Ukrainians in Canada During the Great War (Edmonton, 1983), Appendix H:5, pp. 171-173.

2 Canada, Statutes, 5 Geo. 5, chap. 2.

3 Privy Council Order No. 2721, 28 October 1914; or Swyripa and Thompson, Loyalties in Conflict, Appendix II:7, pp. 175-176.

4 W.D. Otter, Internment Operations, 1914-1920 (Ottawa, 1921), pp. 4-5.

5 Ibid., p.6; and Desmond Morton, The Canadian General: Sir William Otter (Toronto, 1974), p. 338.

6 R.H. Coats, 'The Alien Enemy in Canada: Internrnent Operations," in Canada in the Great World War, 6 vols. (Toronto, 1917-21), 2: pp.148-149.

7 Morton, The Canadian General, pp.337-338.

8 See P. Iasnovsky, Pid ridnym i pid chuzhym nebom (Buenos Aires, 1961), pp. 216-217, translated into English in Harry Piniuta (ed.), Land of Pain, Land of Promise: First Person Accounts by Ukrainian Pioneers, 1891-1910 (Saskatoon, 1978); the memoirs of Dmytro Kruchak in Ukrainske slovo, 30 May 1951; and Lubomyr Y. Luciuk, Internment Operations: The Role of Old Fort Henry in World War I (Kingston, 1980), pp. 29-33.

9 National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC), RG 6, Vol. 5, File: 3326(l), W.E. Date to D. MacPherson, 11 July 1916.

10 NAC, RG 6, Vol. 3, File: 3194(l); Vol. 5, Files: 3326(1,5); and Vol. 8, File: 3466(2).

11 NAC, RG 6, Vol. 8, File: 3466(2).

12 Otter, Intemment Operations, pp. 6,.; and Morton The Canadian General, pp. 333,336-339.

13 Otter, Internment Operations, p.6; and Morton, The Canadian General, pp.333,336-339, and "Sir William Otter and Internment Operations in Canada during the First World War," Canadian Historical Review 55, no. 1 (March 1974): pp. 45-46; and United States, National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter NARA), 763.72115/1954, F.M. Ryder, American Consul-General, Winnipeg, "Official Inspection of the Internment Station at Brandon, Manitoba", 25 May 1916. For conditions of Ukrainians at Brandon and other camps see Peter Melnycky, "The Internment of Ukrainians in Canada", in Swyripa and Thompson, Loyalties in Conflict, pp. 1-24.

14 Morton, The Canadian General, pp. 335,339,344 and "Otter and Internment Operations", pp. 43,50.

15 NARA, 763.72115/1661, American Consulate-General, Ottawa, 22 February 1916 "Re. number of German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish subjects in Canada."

16 Orest T. Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada: The Formative Period, 1891-1924 (Edmonton,1991), pp. 129,133,139,142.

17 NARA, 342.63/22, Ambassador Imperial & Royal Austro-Hungarian Embassy, Washington to United States State Department, 19 November 1914.

18 Ibid.

19 Jean Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion au Quebec durant la Première Guerre Mondiale (Montreal, 1973), p.9; and Otter, Internment Operations, pp. 4,16; and NAC, RG 117, Vol. 20, File: "Movement of Prisoners of War", 29 April 19

20 Otter, Internment Operations, p.4.

21 NARA, 763.72115/1135, American Consulate, Quebec City, to the Honorable the Secretary of State, "Report on Conditions and Needs of German Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Subjects in the Quebec Consular District", 20 July 1915.

22 NAC, RG 117, Vol. 20, File: "Movement of Prisoners of War", 29 April 1920; and NARA, 763.72115/1135.

23 NARA, 763.72115/1135.

24 Ibid.

25 Otter, Internment Operations, p.4; and Laflamme, Les camps de deténtions pp. 14, 44; and NAC, RG 117, Vol. 20, File: "Movement of Prisoners", 29 April 1920.

26 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, pp. 12-13, 47; Pierre Trudelle, L'Abitibi d'autrefois, d'hier et d'aujourd'hui (Amos,1937), p.111; and NAC, RG 117, Vol. 20, File: "Movement of Prisoners", 29 April 1920. The National Transcontinental Railway was government built and became part of the Grand Trunk Pacific system connecting from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Moncton New Brunswick through Edmonton, Melville and Winnipeg.

27 NARA, 763.72115/1092, Wm. Harrison Pradley, American Consul-General at Montreal to Secretary of State, "Situation of Austro-Hungarians, Germans and Turks", 23 February 1915. The consul assured his superiors that the Minister of justice in charge of internment was a "broadminded honest man" carrying out the ideas of Prime Minister Robert L. Borden, that "these unfortunate people, who were brought here to do development work in this new country, should not suffer from events transpiring in Europe over which they had no control."

28 Ibid. As unlikely as this settlement scheme might appear in retrospect, it is ironic that a dozen years later the Quebec government, in concert with the St. Raphael's Immigrant Aid Society, the CNR's colonization agency and the particular efforts of Rev. Josaphat Jean O.S.B.M., set aside a bloc of land for colonization by Ukrainian settlers some 50 km north-east of Amos at Lac Castanier. The settlement ultimately failed, attracting only a handful of long term settlers. See Myron Gulka-Tiechko, "The Inter-War Ukrainian Immigration to Canada: 1919-1939", MA thesis, University of Manitoba,1983; and Jaroslav Rozumnyj "One Immigrant's Saga: The Sheptycky Colony in Quebec", in Jaroslav Rozumnyj (ed.), New Soil-Old Roots: The Ukrainian Experience in Canada (Winnipeg 1983), pp.58-70; and Zonia Keywan, A Turbulent Life: Biography of Josaphat Jean O.S.B.M.(1885-1972), (Verdun, 1990).

29 NARA, 763.72115/636. Wm. Harrison Pradley, American Consul- General at Montreal to the Honorable The Secretary of State, Washington. "Situation of prisoners of war, at the camps in Canada," 20 April 1915.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 NARA, 763.72115/1083, American Consul General, Montreal to Secretary of State, "Situation of Austro-Hungarians and Germans in the Montreal Consular District," 16 September 1915. '....the Minister [of justice] was good enough to say that he really did not know what the Govermnent would have done in the situation without me, as there had been trouble at most of the points in the Dominion, where the aliens were gathered, besides publicity and large expense. The whole outlay of the Government for this district has been less than, $20,000.00. The coming winter will renew the trouble, but it cannot, with the present organization, be as acute as the past year."

33 NARA, 763.72115/1246, American Consulate General, Ottawa to The Honorable The Secretary of State, Washington, "Investigation of charges of Hermann Grunewald re treatment of Prisoners of War", 14 October 1915. NOTE: Civilian interpreters were assigned to each camp. At Montreal, C. E. Baby was listed as capable in the following languages: English, German, Romanian, Polish, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Croatian, Russian, Hungarian and Czech. George Maraes at Beauport and Joseph Nordman at Spirit Lake and later Kapuskasing listed Ruthenian among their language capabilities. See NACRG 117, Vol. 20, File: "List of Interpreters at Internment Stations with the languages which they translate," 15 February 1917.

34 NARA, 763.72115/1246.

35 Ibid.

36 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, pp. 29-31. Altogether 107 internees died in the camps, sixty-nine of them Austrians. The majority succumbed to tuberculosis, pneumonia and heart disease, and a handful during escape attempts or from suicide. General Otter's final report on internment operations failed to register adequately the extent of less serious, if not mortal, injuries suffered by internees. See Otter, Internment Operations , p.12-13. There were happier events in the camp however. The local Roman Catholic priest at the Sainte-Therese parish in Amos baptised 15 children born to the couples in the prisoners' village. The "Ruthenian" bishop referred to was Nykyta Budka in Winnipeg. Budka was the focus of considerable controversy due to a number of pastoral letters written regarding the duties of Ukrainians in Canada as Austrian reservists. The first letter was incorrectly interpreted by many as anti-British in sentiment. On this controversy, the question of military obligation and Austrophilism among Ukrainians in Canada see Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada, pp. 317-318, 325; Swyripa and Thompson, Loyalties in Conflict, pp. 161-165; and Stella Hryniuk "The Bishop Budka Controversy: A New Perspective," Canadian Slavonic Papers XXIII(2) 1981, pp. 154-165.

37 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, p. 41; and Otter, Internment Operations, p. 12. Yurij Luhovy's 1980 documentary film "Ukrainians in Quebec: The Formative Years, 1890-1945" estimates there were 50 escapes from Spirit Lake. See Jars Balan, Salt and Braided Bread: Ukrainian Life in Canada (Toronto, 1984), p.32. At Castle Mountain/Banff, nearly seventy of over 600 prisoners escaped from the camp. Only 24 were recaptured. See Bohdan S. Kordan and Peter Melnycky (eds.) In the Shadow of the Rockies: Diary of the Castle Mountain Intemment Camp, 1915-1917 (Edmonton,1991).

38 NARA, 763.72115/1246.

39 Kanadyiskyi Rusyn 12 May 1915; Kazymyr I. Mervitskyj, "Spohady pionera", in Adolf Hladylovych, Iaroslav Pryshliak and lurii Levytskyi (eds.), Propamiatna knyha z nahody zolotoho iuvileiu khramu Sv. Arkhystratyha Mykhaila v Montreali, (Toronto,1966), p.21.

40 Kanadyiskyi Rusyn 23 June 1915.

41 NARA, 763.72115/2204, extract from report of "Dr. Redkovitz, Priest of Ruthenian Catholic Church to W. Harrison Bradley, United States Consul-General, Montreal."

42 Hladylovych et al, Propamiatna knyha, p.12.

43 Michael H. Marunchak, The Ukrainian Canadians: A History, (Winnipeg, 1970), pp. 211, 331.

44 Ukrainskyi Holos, 6 December 1915.

45 Kanadyiskyi Rusyn, 15, 22, 27, December 1915 and 26 January 1916.

46 NAC, RG 6, Vol. 6, File: 3360(l), Rodden to Otter, 13 June 1916.

47 On 6 December 1916 the Quebec Chronicle reported under the headline, "Lazy Aliens in Camp At Amos," that 400 "healthy able bodied" interned prisoners of war, in the Abitibi district, were "becoming extremely lazy" and were refusing to enter the woods to cut wood necessary for cooking and heating of their camps. Camp authorities responded by serving only raw meat and uncooked food to the aliens" the most effective way of making these interned foreigners realize that Canada is at war with Germany and Austria, and that internment camps are not conducted on the same principle as charity institutions..." More forcible measures than those adopted at Amos would without doubt be employed by the Huns.

48 NARA, 763.72115/2779, American Consul, G. Willrich to The Honorable The Secretary of State Washington, "Report on Conditions of German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian Subjects in Quebec Consular District and in the Detention Camp at Spirit Lake, Quebec," 29 December 1916; and Laflamme, Les Camps de detention, p. 17.

49 NARA, 763.72115/2779.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid. Other prisoner testimonies included: Michael Nastaseuk, POW # 899, cited conditions at Petawawa and General Otter's pledge that no one was to be coerced to work for his decision to withdraw his services, "But when I quit work, I was put in clink(prison)." John Ardylar, #613Y, an American resident, arrested while in transit through Canada, testified that while not compelled to work at either Kingston or Petawawa, at Spirit Lake his refusal to work brought him seven days in the "clink, "where for five days, he received nothing "except one piece of bread and a little water." Bukovynian carpenter, Sylvester Bodla, # 915Y, having lived for three years in Canada with a wife and four children in Europe, worked in the camp kitchen for ten months, sixteen hours a day. "Still work there but do not want to work any more ... The meat is never cooked now but has been eaten raw for eighteen days."

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Estimates on the number of Ukrainians who served in the Canadian forces during the war range between 2,000-10,000. See Mykhailo Marunchak, Studii do istorii ukraintsiv Kanady, vol. IV (Winnipeg, 1972), pp.188-189; and Frances Swyripa, "The Ukrainian Image: Loyal Citizen or Disloyal Alien", in Swyripa and Thompson, Loyalties in Conflict, pp.47-68; and V.J. Kaye, Ukrainian Canadians in Canada's Wars (Toronto, 1983); and Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada, pp.420,444.

60 Canada Gazette, 22 December 1917. See also F.A. Macrouch, (ed.), Ukrainian Year Book and Ukrainians of Distinction, 1953-1954 (Winnipeg,1953-1954), p.79; and George C. Machum, Canada's V.C.'s (Toronto, 1956) pp.72-73.

61 Marunchak, Studii, vol. IV, p. 190.

62 Kaye, Ukrainian Canadians in Canada's Wars, pp. 112, 116, 120-22.

63 NAC, RG 6, Volume 7, File: 3466(2), "Prisoners of Railway Detachment, Kapuskasing;" and RG 24, Volume 4513, File 4.

64 NARA, 763.72115/ 2779; and Laflanune, Les camps de deténtion, pp. 19, 35-36; and NAC, RG 117, Vol. 20, File: "Movements of Prisoners of War," 29 April 1920; and Otter, Internment Operations, p.9.

65 John Huk, Strangers in the Land: the Ukrainian Presence in Cape Breton (Sydney N.S.,1986), pp. 18, 19, 38; and Robochyi narod, 9 June 1915 and 10 July 1916.

66 NAC, RG 6, Vol. 5, File: 3326(3), Nick Bodnar to W.D.Otter, 16 April 1917. Paroled internees were often placed into vulnerable situations. POW #855, Wasyl Mafticzuk, along with 200 others was paroled from Spirit Lake in May of 1916 to work for the St. Maurice Construction Company in Montreal. Dissatisfied with the company, he quit. At the insistence of the company, he was re-arrested and brought back to work. Refusing to continue, he applied to be re-interned at Spirit Lake, which was granted him four months after his initial parole. Military authorities engaged in sharp correspondence with St. Maurice in order that Mafticzuk receive wages due him. Consul Willrich feared such cases, where paroles were apparently used as cheaper corporate labor than would otherwise be obtainable, indicated an "undesirable exploitation by private corporations in Canada of prisoners of war, released to them." See NARA, 763.72115/2779.

67 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, p. 44.

68 Ibid., pp. 17, 24, 46.

69 Privy Council Orders, No. 2381, 25 September; No. 2384, 28 September; No. 2525, 11 October 1918; and Martin Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, 1880-1930 (Kingston,1968) p.166; and Morton, "Otter and Intermnent Operations", pp.56-58; and D. H. Avery, "Dangerous Foreigners". European Immigrant Workers and Labour Radicalism in Canada, 1896-1932 (Toronto, 1979), p.86; and Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada, p.437. For a review of the various legal restrictions directed against Ukrainians during the war see Mark Minenko, "Without just Cause: Canada's first National Internment Operations", in Lubomyr Luciuk and Stella Hryniuk (eds.) Canada's Ukrainians: Negotiating an Identity (Toronto,1991), pp. 288-303, 469-472.

70 Martynowych, Ukrainians in Canada, p. 436.

71 NAC, RG 6 H3, Vol. 800, File: 1431, Secretary of State of Canada to James Carter, Peace Officer and Member of the Dominion Police Force, Montreal, 7 May 1918.

72 Ibid.

73 Ivan Hnyda, "Vydavnytstvo 'Novyi svit' v Montreali (1914- 1926)", in Vpered: Kaliendar dlia ukrainskoho robitnytstva na rik 1926 (New York, 1925), pp. 241-244; and Otter, Internment Operations, p.4.

74 Otter, Internment Operations, p.4.

75 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, p.27; and Daniel Maceluch "How Ukrainians were exiled to Quebec gulag," 11 May 1985, The Montreal Gazette, p. D-1.

76 Laflamme, Les camps de deténtion, p.29.

77 NAC, RG 117, Vol. 19, File: B.J. McIntyre to A.H. Mathieu, "Internment Operations Branch Special Account and Records; 1914-1918, World War I," 6 June 1951. For the camp at Valcartier, 15 internees had an outstanding account for earnings totalling $129.

78 J.U. Dumont, Le Pays du Domaine, Amos, 1938. pp.38-41.

79 "Dreams Betrayed", CBC, The Journal documentary, Andy Blicq, Producer, 1992. "Mary Haskett's story is also profiled in the feature documentary film on the history of Canada's first internment operations, "Freedom Had a Price," (Yurij Luhovy, Producer/Director, Montreal, 1994).

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Peter Melnycky obtained a Master's degree in Social Sciences from the University of Manitoba in 1979. He has been research historian with the Historic Sites and Archives Services of Alberta Community development since 1982. He has written on the internment of Ukrainians in Loyalties in Conflict: Ukrainians in Canada During the Great War (Edmonton, 1983, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta) and more recently, he co-authored a book entitled In the Shadow of the Rockies: Diary of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp (Edmonton, 1991, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta).

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This essay first appeared as one of twelve essays in a publication entitled, The Ukrainian Experience In Quebec ISBN 0-921537-08-5. and permission has been granted to use it at this site. This was one of the projects of the Quebec Ukrainian Centennial Commision. The print run was of a limited size and were not widely distributed by regualr channels. If you would be interested in purchasing a copy for your library please contact Mr. G. Grosko.

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© 1993 Peter Melnycky. All rights reserved by the author.

since August 1st 2005