From the Globe and Mail:
To be built on the site of a First World War-era internment camp, the Hotel in the Garden project will raise a few eyebrows – not just for its guests, but also for a public unfamiliar with Canada’s early attempts at mass civilian internments.
Below the dreary parking lot where the Hotel in the Garden will eventually stand are limestone foundations from a 19th-century military fort. Those walls once penned in civilians from Eastern Europe deemed enemy aliens. The internees were waiting to be shipped to remote work camps.
“This was a black spot on Canadian history,” explains Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston and chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
After some prodding from the Ukrainian community, the city is making sure the developer showcases the history of the site as a prominent part of the luxury hotel.
“It took me 25 years to convince the government what happened,” says Mr. Luciuk, “but now we are going to hallow the memory of innocents who were held and dispersed through this site.”
Close to 9,000 civilians were forcibly held at 24 camps across Canada, and New Fort was Toronto’s collecting ground for detainees who were shipped to wilderness camps with electrified fences, where they would build roads and railways for no pay.
Descendents of internees have had a difficult time getting their story told – author Peter Melnycky contends that in the 1950s and 1960s, Archives Canada intentionally destroyed records of the internments. But in 2008, the federal government established a $10-million First World War Internment Recognition Fund to educate the country about this dark period.
“There is nothing negative about history,” says the owner of HK, a company with four boutique hotels in New York. “Bad things happen, but they are part of life. What is important is that you recognize it. The plan now is to erect a plaque, but we are more than happy to do more. The more communities involved, the better. We’d like to make Toronto’s diversity very much a part of this project. Finally we are going to create life at this site.”