The internment of Ukrainians around Fernie during the First World War is being remembered in a digital history project commemorating that period of Canada’s history in B.C.
“Between 1914 and 1920, thousands of so-called ‘enemy aliens’— over 5,000 of whom were Ukrainian—were arrested and sent to internment camps by the Canadian government,” reads a press release from On This Spot, the organization that created the project.
The project, funded by a Canada First World War Internment Recognition Fund grant, is available at onthisspot.ca or on their app, and features ‘striking’ then and now pictures and app-based walking tours. Fernie, Edgewood, Mara Lake, Revelstoke, Monashee, Nanaimo, Vernon, and Yoho are all featured on the website.
“While the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II is widely known, less known is the story of Canada’s arbitrary and sometimes brutal internment of 8,759 people during the Great War,” the release reads.
Most of those interned were immigrants from the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire and various people from the Ottoman Empire.
“A sprawling nation-wide network of 24 camps and receiving stations was established to process and imprison these ‘enemy aliens’,” it says, adding that camps in B.C. are the focus of the project.
“At some of them the internees were forced to build highways in appalling conditions.”
The project’s entry about Fernie reads: “In the summer of 1915 the growing public pressure led the government to arrest miners that originated from nations Canada was at war with, and interned them at the town’s ice rink. In the autumn they were moved to the abandoned townsite of Morrissey just south of Fernie, which was repurposed as an internment camp.”
The page includes photos and a short video on the subject, as well as more information.
Andrew Farris, CEO of On This Spot, brought up in the release Canada’s very large Ukrainian diaspora (it has the third largest Ukrainian population in the world aside from Ukraine and Russia), and said Canada is “one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies as it resists Russian aggression.”
“Yet many Canadians don’t know that this country wasn’t always so welcoming to Ukrainians. Instead, these immigrants and members of many other nationalities were persecuted, interned, and deprived of their rights and freedoms solely because of their national origins.
“This project is a timely reminder of the fragility of those freedoms, and how vigilant we must always be in defending them.
“As Ukrainians showed us then and are showing us now, freedom is worth defending, even at great cost.”