For immediate release (Toronto, ON, November 22, 2022)
The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation (UCCLF) on Saturday officially unveiled Canada’s latest educational and commemorative plaque marking a darker chapter in Canadian history – the internment operations during and after the First World War which ensnared 8,000 Ukrainians and others in a network of 24 camps, and forced a further 80,000 to check in semi-regularly with the police.
Dozens of people from the GTA attended the unveiling of the plaque, which was affixed to the Bloor Street-facing exterior wall of the Ukrainian Credit Union, located at the heart of the annual Bloor Street West Toronto Ukrainian Festival. The UCCLF was thankful for the support of Ukrainian Credit Union as well as the Ukrainian National Federation.
Under the War Measures Act, thousands Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans invited to settle in Canada had their rights stripped. They were forbidden to leave, labeled “enemy aliens,” arrested, and made to work on government and corporate constructions projects. Those affected were unfortunate enough to have arrived in Canada bearing Austro-Hungarian passports – Canada’s enemy at the time, and also the colonialist occupier of part of Ukraine and much of Europe. Those interned suffered not because of anything they had done, but because of from where they had arrived. Many remained “in fear of the barbed wire fence” for decades following their parole.
“It’s difficult for me, like most born-and-raised Canadians, to comprehend this episode in Canada’s history,” said UCCLF chairman Borys Sydoruk. “Until quite recently, we had no knowledge of it. It shows that there cannot be reconciliation without education. No region of Canada was free of the federal government’s internment operations – the province of Ontario alone was home to six camps – at Kapuskasing, Sault Ste. Marie, Petawawa, Kingston, Niagara Falls, and right here in the City of Toronto.
“The plaque unveiled today, in this busy and popular neighbourhood of Toronto, will help educate residents and visitors alike to what happened in Canada a century ago to minorities like the Ukrainians, when the government implemented laws based on fear.”
The affected communities included Ukrainians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Serbians, Slovaks, Slovenes and others. Most were civilians.
Guest speakers included Ihor Bardyn of the Ukrainian National Federation, Taras Pidzamecky of the Ukrainian Credit Union, Maxim Bozhilov of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, Jurij Klufas, representing of Bloor West Village Business Improvement Area, as well as Arif Virani, Member of Parliament for Parkdale – High Park.
“As a student of history who then studied law and entered politics, I find myself humbled by what I learn about my riding and about my country – on a daily basis,” said Virani. “This is yet another aspect of that education.
“It’s something that absolutely cannot be forgotten, in terms of what it represents for the Ukrainian community and for so many other Eastern Europeans that were housed in these camps that were right here in our province and literally around the country…the notion of someone fleeing the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then to be interned upon arrival in Halifax, is troubling, because you’re seeking freedom, not internment. That something we need to learn from, to understand, to move forward from.”
Consecrating the panels were Rev. Fr. Vasyl Fediv of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Andrew the Apostle, and Rt. Rev. Fr. Volodomyr Yanishevsky of St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.