Barbed Wire

Ukrainian Canadians press Ottawa to acknowledge past injustice

Written by Chris Zdeb Montgomery

The Edmonton Journal
29 March 1993

Barbed Wire

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Internment Work Party, Harmony Collection (Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum)

William Doskoch was just 16 when he arrived in Canada full of hope for the future in his new homeland.

But a little known historical event during the First World War robbed him of five years of his life, leaving him a bitter man.

Doskoch was one of about 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians rounded up into prisoner of war camps because they had come from Ukraine, parts of which were controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was at war with the Allies.

"It was a betrayal of all the ideals he had held," says his daughter Anne Sadelain of Edmonton.

"He was never charged with anything, none of them were, but they lost their freedom for as long as five years," she said.

Now, 48 years after her father's death, Sadelain has joined the families of other Ukrainian Canadians in calling for the federal government to right the wrong.

"I feel a very great injustice was done and the Canadian people should recognize this," she said Sunday.

A delegation from the Redress Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association will meet members of Parliament in Ottawa today to ask for public acknowledgement of the injustice while the last known survivor is still alive.

Bohdan Kordan, a Grant MacEwan political science professor who had to bow out of the delegation because of a scheduling conflict, said the camps were "appalling, unnecessary and arbitrary.

"It behooves all Canadians to know that this happened, has happened several times and should not be allowed to happen again."

The Ukrainian camps were similar to camps that held Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. The issue of public acknowledgement and redress has been before the federal government since 1988 and Ukrainian Canadians are tired of waiting, Kordan says.

They want the secret out.

Sadelain said Canadians should know that their national parks were built on the backs of these prisoners who were forced to work against their will.

Anybody who was Ukrainian, male, poor and for the most part unemployed, was rounded up for the camps, most of which were located in national parks, says Kordan, who wrote a book on the camp at Banff. A second book detailing all the camps in the Rockies is due out in six months.

"During the First World War, the economy was bad and municipalities had all these unemployed people they were responsible for. So they had them designated enemy aliens and they had to report to police."

Some prisoners were kept for the five-year duration of the war. Others were released two or three years later because the job market had improved, Kordan said.

Sadelain's father was among the few men who could read and write English and he wrote letters protesting the internment which got him branded an agitator. He was transferred from a camp in Morrisey, B.C., where he worked clearing brush for railway construction, to a camp in Kapuskasing, Ont., and was held longer because of his protestations, she said.

Ukrainian Canadians who owned property and were employed - about 80,000 people - had to report monthly to local police or RCMP.

The men who were taken to the camps were put to work primarily building park roads like the road that linked Banff to Lake Louise. They also worked on the Banff hot springs and on Jasper National Park.

"You will never find a sliver of information on their contribution to the parks," Kordan said. This lack of information is in violation of the 1930s parks act which calls for the provision of the entire history of parks development.

Besides the erection of historical park markers, the association wants public acknowledgement of what happened, changes to Canada's 1988 Emergencies Act so this could never happen again and some form of symbolic financial redress.

Men held in internment camps were given 25 cents a day by the government for the days they worked, but most never got paid, Kordan said.

Sadelain said her father never saw a penny of the money he was owed, but his biggest concern was "the outrage of losing his freedom...losing five years of his life."

Public acknowledgement by the government of what happened to these men and their families, as well as letting Canadians know of their contributions, won't completely right the wrong but "it would be a cleansing for the country," she said.

It would also be cleansing for her family. "I would like to see it done in the memory of my father. He would be very proud that we had worked at this and got public acknowledgement.

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Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk

We acknowledge the help in the preparation of this document by Amanda Anderson

Page layout, design, integration, and maintenance by G.W. Kokodyniak and V. Pawlowsky

Copyright © 1996-1997 InfoUkes Inc.


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Originally Composed: Wednesday December 4th 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.