Controversy at WW1 Internment exhibit’s opening in Banff

For those who are planning to check out the new WWI Internment exhibit in Banff on Thursday, The Globe and Mail recently ran a story on the controversy around the exhibit. Parks Canada is white washing the injustices faced by people previously invited to immigrate to this country only to be interned and forced to build the local infrastructure – including part of Banff itself. Anyone attending the exhibit may see a family-friendly tourist destination, rather than a testament to a great injustice. The article noted:

Harsh terms, such as the phrase “concentration camps,” won’t appear. Racism has been played down, while other issues of the day, such as labour and global conflict, are highlighted. And the suffering felt in the camps is muted. A newspaper photograph of an escapee who was shot dead, for instance, will not appear.

In light of the absences of these important points that deserve to be noted, but will not at this exhibit – I decided to dig up information on these points and highlight them here:

Harsh terms, such as the phrase “concentration camps,” won’t appear.

Even the Globe article notes at that the time they were called “concentration camps”. More instances were found in the book ‘In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence’ available for free at the UCCLA site:

Troubling as it may be for some, the term “concentration camp” was officially and
widely used at the time. See, for example, the Officer Commanding 5th Military Division, Quebec to Major General Otter, 4 January 1915 in the National Archives of Canada (NAC) Record Group 24, Volume 4513, File 2. For another example, see the Charge d’Affaires of Austria-Hungary to the Secretary of State, Washington, dated 24 May 1916:
According to newspaper reports a riot is said to have occurred in the concentration camp of Kapuskasing, Ont.,

Writers who considered the internment operations likewise concluded that they had a
negative impact on the Ukrainian Canadian community. Thus, in her classic study, Men in Sheepskin Coats, Vera Lysenko wrote, pages 115-116:
One repressive measure followed another, directed against the bewildered Ukrainians. Thousands of harmless “Galicians” were rounded up by the police and herded into concentration camps.

For other instances when the term “concentration camp” was used see “Interned
Germans,” Morning Albertan, 5 January 1915, page 1, which reported that 1,800 Germans and Austrians had already been jailed in Canadian concentration camps, and hundreds more registered. The next day the same paper reported, page 4, that 7,300 aliens had been registered at Montreal and 2,500 at Toronto. See also the Victoria Daily Colonist, “Aliens to register,” 1 November 1914, page 3 and “Bear German names,” 26 November 1914, page 2; “Government plans for interning the aliens maturing,” Sault Daily Star, 28 November 1914, page 5; “Aliens in concentration camps refuse to work,” Winnipeg Telegram, 5 January 1915, page 5; "Concentration Camp Practically Ready For The Prisoners," Amherst Daily News, 18 January 1915“30 Austrians arrive at Fort from Petawawa,” Daily British Whig, 5 October 1915, page 1;
“Are being employed along the line of the C.P.R.”, Sault Daily Star, 5 September 1916, page 5 and “No compulsion of the Aliens,” Globe, 17 February 1918, page 14. On 24 June 1915 in “Aliens clear land,” Vernon News, page 5, there is an account of how 2,000 enemy aliens had already “entered in the big concentration camps at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake” in each of which about 1,000 acres of good land had been cleared, with another 2,000 acres set aside for further improvement.

Clearly many instances of that term have been used.

Racism has been played down

Even prior to WW1, Ukrainians and other foreigners were not being welcomed in their new homeland – recruited en masse by Primer Minister Lauier and others to take on the rough terrain and dangerous labour shunned by their Anglo counterparts in order to build this country:

As for the Galicians I have no met a single person in the whole of the Northwest who is sympathetic towards them. They are from the point of view of civilization ten times lower than the Indians – Alberta Tribune, Feb 4th 1899

The National Film Board even documented the sentiment in a film called ‘Teach me to Dance’, which is available to watch for free.

As WW1 started, these Galicians, Ruthenians and Bukovynians who previously hailed from Austro-Hungary, would be chastised by their newly-adopted homeland as enemy-aliens, and traitors.

the suffering felt in the camps is muted

There are too many accounts to highlight here, but some are available to read in this ‘Affirmation of Witness’ pamphlet, at the UCCLA site.

A newspaper photograph of an escapee who was shot dead, for instance, will not appear

The photograph is of Ivan Hryoryshchuk, who tried to escape the internment camp at Spirit Lake.

This photo captures a sombre moment at the internment camp. Ivan Hryhoryshchuk, lying dead on the rail cart, was killed while attempting to escape from the Spirit Lake, Quebec, internment camp, June 7, 1915. Photo by Sergeant William Buck from the collection "In My Charge."

2 thoughts on “Controversy at WW1 Internment exhibit’s opening in Banff”

  1. My great grandfather was interned at one of these camps. I am wondering if it is possible to find out where he was interned. I am unsure where to look for this information. If you can help I would appreciate it.

  2. Go to the website (Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the group that spearheaded the 20+ year campaign for recognition and redress) and look up the ROLL CALL (and supplementary) documents posted there…that is the most complete list of internees available to date. Unfortunately, we may never learn all of the internees’ names or more about them, given the destruction of so many Office of Internment Operations files. Check local newspaper stories, and, of course, ask members of your own family and community to see if they have information. People have found information in family papers, to their surprise.

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