Canada apologizes for internment camps

The city of Fernie commemorated the 100th anniversary of Canada
The city of Fernie commemorated the 100th anniversary of Canada's first national internment camps, unveiling a dedication plaque at Dogwood Park.
— image credit: K. Dingman

Last Friday, Fernie joined 14 other British Columbia cities taking part in a national ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Canada’s first national internment camps.

Before unveiling a dedication plaque at Dogwood Park, Mayor Mary Giuliano delivered a heart-felt speech.

“I first heard about internment camps from a friend of my family,” she said. “She used to tell me how she and her mother would go and bring food to the Italians that were in the internment camp in Morrissey.” Giuliano went on to say, “Fernie Morrissey was one of the 24 camps across Canada established under the War Measures Act in 1914 to 1920.

People were forced to do heavy labour, subjected to separation of family members, loss of personal property and exposed to other government endorsed humiliations not because of anything they did wrong but only because of their ethnic background.”

Over 8,000 people, mainly Ukrainians and other Europeans, were sent to live in internment camps, including the one just outside of Fernie. Women and children were held in two camps—one in Vernon, B.C. and the other in Spirit Lake, Quebec.

On Friday, 100 plaques were unveiled across Canada as Canadians remembered those subjected to horrific conditions under the War Measures Act.

“I am really proud to be part of this historic wave of plaque unveiling that is happening today from coast to coast,” Giuliano noted. “This event is of utmost significance as it recalls the memory of all the people unnecessarily confined during the first Canadian internment operations. In remembering what they suffered, lets hope that this repression is never ever repeated.”

Historian Mike Pennock was invited to speak during the ceremony.

“Internment camps were very serious,” he stated. “Unfortunately when you look at our history in Canada, it started by the way we treated some of the Chinese immigrants.”

Pennock added, “For me, being Canadian means being able to look back at these things, look at them and say, ‘It’s hard to believe we actually did that, we’re sorry and we’re going to try to make sure that we never do that again.’”

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