Treated in Every Way:
The Interment of Ukrainians in
Quebec During the First World War
By: Peter Melnycky
Many of these immigrants were already Canadian citizens, although that was not necessarily a shield from discrimination, but many thousands were not. In order to deal with a large un-naturalized immigrant population, the Dominion Government enacted a series of regulations and orders-in-council for the monitoring, registration and potential confinement of un-naturalized immigrants from countries with which Canada was at war. During the course of the war, some 80,000 immigrants from "enemy" countries were registered as "enemy aliens" and 8,579 "enemy aliens" confined in internment camps. The majority of those interned were civilian male non-combatants; Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Croats, Serbs, Slovaks, and other immigrants attracted to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with small numbers of Turks and Bulgarians.
Although designed to house un-naturalized enemy alien immigrants who had contravened regulations or who were deemed to be security threats, in practice, the camps served primarily to hold the destitute and unemployed.
Nativist pressure and prejudice were also factors through which
in some cases naturalized British subjects, ended up in the camps. By
most military and government officials realized the vast majority of
interned posed no real threat to security. Indeed, labour shortages
industry and agriculture dictated that most of them be paroled back
the labour market.
Another important consideration in the release of Ukrainian and other civilians was that the camps required the expenditure of scarce resources on the imprisonment of people innocent of any crimes in conditions that were increasingly coming under critical international scrutiny.
The intent of this paper is to present a brief overview of Canada's
of internment during the First World War and of the history of
camps in the province of Quebec. Particular attention is devoted to the
inspection reports filed by American consular officials on behalf of
Central Powers concerning the internment of their civilian subjects in
Canada: a largely-unknown source of archival material on the camps.
With the outbreak of war, a series of proclamations and orders in council were speedily drafted and enacted against immigrants from enemy countries. Within nine days of war being declared on 15 August 1914, all subjects of enemy countries were declared liable to arrest and detention, especially if they attempted to leave Canada. Those pursuing their normal occupations quietly were promised the law's protection and the respect and considerat ion due to peaceful law-abiding citizens. Anyone suspected of or found to be participating in proscribed activities; however, could be apprehended.
When authorities were not satisfied with the trustworthiness of enemy
who refused to report periodically or when parolees failed to abide by
the terms of their parole, those apprehende d were liable to internment
under guard of the Canadian militia. The War Measures Act was
on 22 August 1914, giving the federal government sweeping emergency
that enabled the cabinet to administer the war effort without
to Parliament or being subject to- existing legislation. This law also
gave the government additional control over immigrants through powers
media censorship, arrest, detention
and deportation; and the expropriation, control and disposal of property.
By late October, growing unemployment and destitution among enemy aliens precipitated a new order-in-council authorizing the appointment of civilian registrars across Canada. All enemy aliens within twenty miles of a registrar's office were to register within one month of its opening, giving details as to age, nationality, place of residence, occupation, desire or intention to leave Canada, intention of military service and next of kin. Those registered were permitted to remain at large but were required to report monthly and carry special identification cards and travel documents. Aliens considered dangerous or indigent, along with those who failed to register, were interned as prisoners of war.
Between 1914-1920, receiving stations and permanent internment camps were established in twenty-four locations across the country. This network of camps was administered by the Internment Operations Branch in Ottawa under the direction of Major General Sir William D. Otter. The Branch reported to the Department of Justice, while the Department of Militia and Defence provided troops to guard the camps. Internment facilities ranged from tents, railway cars and bunkhouses to armouries, barracks, forts, exhibition buildings and rented factories. Some stations operated for a matter of months, while the camps at Vernon, British Columbia and Kapuskasing, Ontario lasted for over five years.
By Otter's own calculation, not more than 3,138 of the 8,579 who passed
through the camps could be classified as prisoners of war i.e.
'in arms' or belonging to enemy 'reserves'." Of this number, 817 had no
prior connection with Canada, being German sailors and merchant seamen
transferred for internment from Newfoundland and British colonies in
West Indies. Thus only 2,321 of the 7,762 internees from within Canada
were bona fide prisoners of war. The rest were civilians who could be
if considered to be either "agents" or of potential service to enemy
Although no accurate breakdown of ethnicity exists for those in the
only 1,192 Germans from within Canada were actually interned as opposed
to 5,954 Austro-Hungarians.
Among the latter, Ukrainians represented the largest ethnic element.
Beneath the rhetoric of public security, the main cause of internment of
Ukrainians was their vulnerable economic position in Canadian society. Already suffering the effects of the pre-war depression, "aliens" were particularly prone to being laid off as industry slackened and employers displayed patriotic preference for "Canadian labour." Unemployment among Ukrainians in the West and in cities across the country was reaching critical proportions. Internment camps became one solution to the problem of destitution. At the end of the winter of 1914-15, there were some 4,000 indigent internees, three-quarters of whom were Austrians."
Many Ukrainians were interned for attempting to enter the United States, without required documents in search of work. Simply stating one's "intention to go to the U.S. without permission" was sufficient for internment. Internment operation files contain numerous additional reasons for internment: these included refusing or failing to register; breaking parole; destroying registration cards; travelling without permission; registering under a false name; writing to relatives in Austria, and status as Austrian reservists.
Other reasons were less concrete, illustrating the broad discretionary
power of the authorities: acting in a "very suspicious manner" or
"a general tendency toward sedition"; using "seditious" or "intemperate
" language; found hiding and destitute in a freight car; or being
"of shiftless character" and "undesirable." In the case of
year old Austrian, Maftey Rotari, the official reason for internment
quite practical. Rotari was a carpenter's helper by occupation and his
skills were required for construction of the camps. On his record of
the "cause of arrest" is registered as "Requests for Carpenters to
huts at Spirit Lake Camp."
Once in the camps, prisoners were segregated into two classes according
previous military service and nationality. Generally better educated
as an officer class, as a group, German internees received preferred
and rations, confinement in urban settings and were not
to do work unrelated to their own comfort, health and cleanliness.
Nova Scotia; Vernon, British Columbia and Fort Henry at Kingston,
became the main detention points for German internees, although these
camps also housed smaller numbers of Ukrainians and other Austrian prisoners.
In contrast, Ukrainians and other Austrian internees were assigned
"second-class" status. Primarily unemployed workers, they were interned as far away as possible from major population centres, in primative work camps or isolated internment camps on the northern frontiers of settlement. In these camps, they were compelled to work for the Canadian Government, building roads, erecting and repairing buildings, and clearing and draining land. Internees received twenty-five cents a day, the equivalent of the supplement paid to Canadian soldiers for work outside their routine military duties. Where both first-class and second-class internees were confined within the same facilities, separate accommodations and job assignments were enforced.
On the Prairies, most "Austrian" internees were sent first to camps at
Lethbridge, Alberta and Brandon, Manitoba which acted as assembly points before inmates were transferred to alternate camps across the country, where the pioneering type of labour to which they were directed was abundant. The "Austrian" component was particularly large at Spirit Lake, Quebec and at Petawawa and Kapuskasing in Ontario. A number of camps were also located in the interior of British Columbia and in the National Parks of the Rocky Mountains: Rocky Mountain (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Mount Revelstoke).
Internees had little protection from the corruption and brutality to
occasionally subjected. Several thousand dollars in cash and valuables,
from internees at the Toronto internment centre, vanished without
and with no charges laid. One of the commandants at Spirit Lake used
to clear timber and open roads on colonization lots he and other family
had obtained adjacent to the camp. Complaints from internees of
mistreatment by guards were not infrequent. At Vernon, an officer was
to have deliberately mistreated prisoners. After visiting the camp at
was inclined to believe charges of bad and inadequate food and cruel
punishments, such as being suspended by the wrists.
While the greater part of those Ukrainians arriving in Canada prior to the First World War was headed further west for agricultural settlement, many came specifically to work as labourers in the country's industrial centres. Montreal became a major pool of immigrant labour and at the outbreak of the war included the largest number of enemy aliens of any military district in Canada. On the eve of the war, Montreal, along with Fort William and Winnipeg, was also one of the major concentrations of Ukrainian urban life in Canada.
Thousands were drawn to the city, either permanently or on a seasonal basis, by unskilled jobs in factories, construction, steel mills, foundries, railway shops, docks, stockyards and terminal elevators. During winters, the number of Ukrainians in Montreal, living primarily in tenement slums, rose to as many as 7,000.
Three months after Canada's entry into the European conflict, the former Austro-Hungarian Consul-General in Montreal, von Hannenheim, then residing in Buffalo, requested the American Consul-General in Ottawa, John G. Foster, to implement a relief plan for destitute Austrians and Hungarians in Canada. As von Hannenheim noted, factories which had employed large numbers of Austrians had closed and
... others have dismissed Austrian workmen from merely sentimental
motives. Certain newspapers, preaching distrust and hinting without
any material proofs at unlawful intentions of the majority of the
Austrians have doubtless been instrumental in creating a general
feeling of suspicion and even hatred which on account of their
nationality makes it almost impossible for the unemployed among
these Austrians to obtain remunerative occupations. This quite
naturally creates a tendency among them to disguise their origin with
the result of increasing suspicion, when the subterfuge is discovered.
Von Hannenheim pleaded that help be directed towards the large numbers
in the major industrial centres and that those not encumbered with
military obligation be allowed greater freedom of movement in their
for employment. Work, food and shelter needed to be provided. The great
of Austrian immigrants were farm labourers and the former
suggested that the Departments of Agriculture and Immigration
a scheme through which destitute labourers might be provided to farmers
their services. As well, a solution was devised through which the
consul, acting on behalf of the Imperial Austrian and Hungarian
government, and administering funds provided through the Dominion of Canada, oversaw the welfare of indigent immigrants, until such time as they were transferred to internment camps.
The first internment station in Quebec was a holding facility established 13 August 1914, in the federal Immigration Building, at 172 St. Antoine Street, in Montreal. Prisoners were transferred from here to internment camps starting on 5 November, being shipped to Fort Henry at Kingston, Ontario and to the militia camp at Petawawa, one hundred sixty-six km northwest of Ottawa. From December 1914, till 5 January 1915, 364 "Austrians" were moved from Montreal to Petawawa. The Montreal station was initially under the command of Lt. Col. W.E. Date of the 17th Hussars, who subsequently at various times held command of the camps at Lethbridge, Kingston and Kapuskasing. Replacing Date at Montreal was Capt. R. D. Gurd, Canadian Army Medical Corp.
The armoury in Beauport, just east of Quebec City, was set up as the first permanent internment camp in the province. It was established on 28 December 1914 and operated until 22 June 1916. During the winter of 1914-1915, interned male Austro-Hungarians and Germans were kept idle at the armoury as there was no outside work for them to perform. They were kept busy with physical drills and outdoor exercise. "The only complaint made was lack of work, which made the life of these men, accustomed to hard physical work, somewhat tedious."
In conjunction with this facility, a summer camp was operated at the
camp, forty kilometres northwest of Quebec City, between 24 April 1915
October 1915. Between April and August of 1915, the
camp received 150 Austrian prisoners from Montreal, 23
Scotia and another 12 from Quebec City. During the summer of
the American consul in Quebec City reported 94 paroled and 128 interned
prisoners in his district. At the Valcartier summer quarters, he
that the "actual conditions of the prisoners is very good and they are
and contented." Their employment consisted of digging ditches, laying
building huts, road construction and keeping their quarters clean and
Under military guard and direction, the prisoners worked ten hour days for which they received payments of twenty-five cents a day.
The American consul described the single migrant labourers who comprised the majority of paroled internees and noted the establishment of camps along ethnic lines:
The greater majority are laborers who are ... frequently out of work.
The conditions under which these men live is one of squalor, but they
seem satisfied with their lot as it is what they are accustomed to.
When any of these men become destitute and are out of employment
they report to the Divisional Intelligence Officer and are interned ....
The separation of these nationals seems to have been caused by the
apparent difference in education and intelligence. The
Austro-Hungarians generally being of the poorer class of emigrants
that have not had a fair chance in life.
At Valcartier, single German of "superior intelligence and ability" was left in charge of the interned Austrians, directing their work and accounting for their conduct. The Officers in Charge of the Valcartier Internment Camp, Majors B.L. O'Hara and J.F.T. Rinfret, were regarded "almost with affection" by the prisoners, in spite of the regimen of strict discipline and punishment.
That the exceptionally good and considerate treatment of these
interned is due largely to the sense of fairness, justice and kindliness
of the two military officers named, there can be no doubt, for under
the same regulations and restrictions men of a less kindly disposition
could make the lot of the interned, as well as of those still at liberty,
very much less tolerable.
With the closure of the Valcartier internment camp on 23 October 1915,
months of operation, 146 Austrians were transferred to Spirit Lake and
When Beauport was closed eight months later on 22 June 1916, seven
were shipped to Kingston and another fourteen sent to Spirit Lake.
(later Lt. Col.) J.F.T. Rinfret of the 87th Regiment, who was so highly
in the consul's report, also transferred to Spirit Lake, where he took
Lt. Col. J.W. Rodden, who then left for Kapuskasing.
The largest internment camp in Quebec was built at Spirit Lake. The
from a Native Indian legend which told of a huge star appearing
the lake as a sign from the Great Spirit. In French, the lake was known
Beauchamp. It was located seven and one-half kilometres west of Amos, in
of the Abitibi colonization district of northwest Quebec. Amos had been
in 1912, at the point where the Transcontinental railway crossed the
River. Originally the camp was to be located about seventy-five
to the east at Belcourt but the Amos Chamber of Commerce
lobbied to have it relocated. During the two years that the camp
over one quarter million dollars worth of business accrued to merchants
in the town through government spending. The first 109 Austrian prisoners were shipped to Spirit Lake from Montreal in January of 1915. Another 518 arrived from Montreal during February and March. By the end of 1915, over 1,210 Austrians, primarily from Montreal (146 from Valcartier), had made the journey north. During 1916, more prisoners arrived from Petawawa (141), Beauport (14), Montreal (26), Kapuskasing (7), Toronto (20), Banff (6), and the Otter camp in the Rocky Mountains (118).
Most of the internees at Spirit Lake came from Montreal. The American
consul-general. in Montreal, Wm. Harrison Pradley, estimated in February 1915 that 11,000 Austro-Hungarians resided in his consular district, including 9,000 men, 500 women and 1,500 children, compared to only 200 Germans and 45 Turks. Those apprehended "en route to the front or destitute from lack of work, which is impossible to procure," were at first interned at Montreal and later dispersed to the internment camps at Kingston (129), Petawawa (292) and Kapuskasing (500) in Ontario and finally to Spirit Lake, Quebec. The American consul-general noted that experimental farms being developed by the Department of Agriculture at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake would allow the internees to learn
"the best methods of agriculture for this country as the season opens."
In the meantime, he provided soup kitghens for indigent Austrians and
Germans and conducted house to house visitations where "practically all men were unemployed." He was feeding, clothing and, where necessary, housing or paying rent for several hundred families, nearly all Austro-Hungarians. The Canadian government provided money to cover these costs until houses were ready to receive them at the Spirit Lake camp. The consul-general painted a hopeful, if somewhat naive, picture of what awaited these families at Spirit Lake, where houses with gardens would provide women and children with a healthy contrast to the city slums they currently endured.
The men meanwhile, being occupied at outdoor work, under their
own leaders, or in pursuing their various avocations in what will really
be a large village without fence or wall except what the people may
erect around their plots. Those who choose to stay after the war can
take out arable land - 100 acres each - in the vicinity of the settlement
on homestead terms and have the proximity and example of the model
farms in the neighborhood to assist them.
In the spring of 1915, Consul-general Pradley reported continued
unemployment among thousands of registered Austrian aliens in his district. The Dominion Government was working hard to complete buildings at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake for housing more men, as well as the 400 destitute families for whose food, clothing and housing "in the cheap quarters of the city" he was responsible. He noted that "destitute men are moved as fast as barracks are ready, to one of the camps." At Spirit Lake, 700 men were at work clearing ground for the government model farm and building log cabins which were to be given to: "such of the families as choose to settle there after the war. Any man can at any time, as the Spring opens, take up one hundred acres of land in the country around the Lake."
On 19 April the first group of twenty married couples and children, ninety-two people in total, nearly all Ukrainian Catholics, departed Montreal to Spirit Lake by train.
I also arranged, as they desired, for a Ruthenian Priest to go with
them and on request from the Camp, hunted up a lithographic picture
of the Byzantine tvpe of the Madonna, which went with them, for
their little log chapel.
A further fifty to one hundred families had applied to Pradley to be sent from Montreal to Spirit Lake as housing became available.
Pradley commented on his ongoing responsibility for helping the Montreal families whose welfare was "almost entirely" on his shoulders. His staff was hard pressed to keep up with "innumerable questions from aliens of the different nationalities," few of whom spoke English but rather only the "dialects or languages of Eastern Austria." He clearly expressed the frustrations of his situation: "They are an ignorant quarrelsome set of children and even the better class of them are in constant turmoil".
Five months later, in September of 1915, Consul-General Pradley
food, clothing and care to 100 families, down from the 500 or 600
he had administered to previously, as the employment situation in
and other centres improved. While the services offered by American
officials to unemployed immigrants appeared to be waning, they were
called upon to inspect the camps to which their previous charges had
In the autumn of 1915, the American Consulate-General dispatched
O. Gaylord Marsh to the camps at Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake, to
inquire into allegations of mistreatment and to report on conditions in general. Marsh's inspection gave a detailed picture of Spirit Lake and his report was the first filed on the camp by a foreign official.
Lieutenant-Colonel William Rodden was in charge of the camp and
commanded nine officers, thirty-two non-commissioned officers, one Hundred and thirty-six guards and eight civilians.
Marsh noted that the main prison camp was located on the northeast
Lake, one and one half kilometres west of the railway station by the
Separating the camp from the lake was the transcontinental railway
head of the camp, on a height of rocky ground sloping down towards the
stood the officers' quarters, a log and board bungalow flanked on one
officers' mess and on the other by a gymnasium. To the south, along the
and eastern perimeters of the camp, were a total of ten 3Ox78 foot
bunkhouses, each capable of accommodating 104 prisoners for a total
capacity of 1,040 prisoners. At the camp's centre was a large parade ground around which stood two soldiers' barracks, a guardhouse, stores, a commissariat, cookhouse and office. The perimeter of the camp was surrounded by a high wire fence with large lamps at each corner. The gates were closed at night to prevent escapes,
... a precaution which is quite in the interests of the prisoners on
account of the peril to those who attempt, unprovisioned and
unguided, to pass through this great and densely forested country,
abounding in large lakes and large swift rivers.
The prisoners' bunks were constructed of spruce boards covered with a layer of spruce fibre and roofing paper. Double floors lined with spruce fibre rested two feet above the ground on stone foundations. Each prisoner was issued five blankets to be used on two-tiered wooden bunks with spruce boughs for mattresses. Barracks contained two 40-inch lumberman's stoves for heating and two rows of dining tables and benches. Captains were assigned within each barrack from "the more intelligent men."
A cookhouse of construction similar to the barracks, containing five large ranges, was provided for each five bunkhouses as was an outhouse accommodating twenty men.
Every prisoner received a soft felt hat, a fur lined cap, two inside and two outside woollen shirts, a canvas, sheepskin or mackinaw coat, working trousers, two suits of woollen underwear, two pairs of heavy woollen socks, a pair of woollen gloves with leather pullovers, army boots and winter moccasins.
A log guardhouse contained thirteen 4x8 foot jail cells. Prisoner
correspondence was permitted, subject to clearance by censors. Evening classes three times a week were offered in geography, farming and English for those interested and plans were being laid to open a suitable school for children at the camp.
Prisoners worked from 7:30 a.m. until noon and then from 1:30 p.m. to
in clearing and draining land or in camp duty in a number of camp
shoe shop, harness shop, carpenter shop, cabinet shop, tailor shop,
shop and basket-weaving shop. Work also included the construction
buildings, the clearing of about 500 acres of land and road
day of work, prisoners were credited twenty-five cents, which could be
at a canteen stocked with tobacco, candies, groceries, paper, ink, pens
goods. A field was provided for football, baseball and other games.
were allowed and Sundays consisted of an hour-long exercise walk
by church attendance, playing games or visiting at the married
The overwhelmingly "Austrian" population of the camp was noted. On 6
October, not a single German was in the camp compared to 3 Turks and 1,135 "Austro-Hungarians" of the"laboring class," including 67 women and 114 children. Although the report did not give details on ethnicity within the camp, it did confirm the existence of the Ukrainian ("Ruthenian") chapel alluded to in Pradley's earlier correspondence:
A comfortable log Roman Catholic Church has been constructed and
furnished with benches, altars, etc. An Austrian priest has been living
in the village, and has had charge of the church services, but he is
absent on leave at the present time.
South of the main camp was a cemetery enclosed by a rail fence and marked by a large concrete cross "consecrated by a Ruthenian bishop." At the time of Marsh's inspection, the cemetery included three interments: two young babies and one adult had died of typhoid contracted prior to entering the camp. Individual graves were marked with cedar crosses bearing the names of the deceased. In total, nineteen prisoners were buried in the cemetery, while two children were reinterred in the parish cemetery at Amos.
One and one-half kilometres from the main camp, past the cemetery, was the married prisoners' village consisting of several shops and log bunkhouses, similar to those in the main camp, accommodating from one to four families. Nearing completion was an apartment building capable of housing twenty married couples without children. Married prisoners were permitted to bring along any furniture, bedding or rugs they owned to the camp to outfit their quarters. Men in the village were subject to the same work regimen as the main camp.
Health care for prisoners and camp personnel was provided at a hospital located on a small hill overlooking the lake, half a kilometre west of the main camp. The hospital included rooms for reception, consultation, examining, operating, dispensing, kitchen, general ward and two private wards. Medical staff included a Senior Medical Officer, an Assistant Medical Officer, a Dispensing Clerk, Hospital Sergeant, Hospital Corporal, Sanitary Sergeant and nine assistants. The Marsh report noted that the health of the camp had been and continued to be excellent. The long and cold winters and short summers saw temperatures fluctuate between nintey-four degrees Fahrenheit and forty-nine degrees below zero, offering a "very healthful" climate.
Although Marsh's report alluded to numerous escape attempts —
which had been successful -— neither his report nor Otter's
internment adequately recorded the incidence of escapes at Spirit Lake
Canada. Escape was quite common, resulting in many prisoners failing to
as well as an occasional casualty and rare death. In Quebec, two
occurred during escape attempts. John Bauzek died of gunshot wounds
in May of 1915. On 7 June of the same year, Iwan Gregoraszczuk,
an escaper from Spirit Lake, was shot to death by a farmer after having travelled 100 kilometres to La Sarre near the Ontario border. The farmer who killed him, subsequently received a jail sentence.
In conclusion, March offered these general remarks on conditions at Spirit Lake:
Sanitary and health conditions are excellent; the food is substantial,
abundant, and wholesome; living and sleeping quarters while
necessarily plain, are comfortable; the prisoners are not overworked,
and are given reasonable consideration; clothing is ample in quantity
and comfort; and the prisoners are as cheerful as their somewhat
restrained position, as prisoners of war, could well make possible.
Not everyone took so optimistic a view, however, and the plight of internees did not go unnoticed by the community outside of the camps. The clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church made regular visitations to the camps. Father Ivan Perepelytsia of Montreal instructed the internees at Spirit Lake to erect a chapel for the celebration of the Liturgy.
Montreal's Rev. Dr. Amvrozii Redkevych made a tour of the camps in June of 1915. His mission was of a strictly spiritual nature and he did not attempt to criticize authorities for the unnecessary imprisoment of his flock. Redkevych travelled at the request of the government and with Bishop Nykyta Budka's blessings, to Brandon, Kapuskasing, and Spirit Lake, conducting services, delivering sermons, celebrating mass and hearing confession. He heard 1,099 penitents, blessed the chapel and cemetery at Spirit Lake and paid glowing tribute to those in charge of the camps.
[I] express in the name of these interned Aliens, the cordial thanks for
the care which is bestowed on them by the Government and by the
Military Authorities generally Their food is nutritive and wholesome
and the camps are spacious and well-ventilated I am particularly
thankful to the officers in charge of the Detention Camps for the way
in which the prisoners are treated it is my intention to express our
thanks for this treatment in our Ruthenian papers in Canada.
Despite these soothing remarks to the authorities, Redkevych was in fact troubled by the fate of his parishioners and took part in efforts to secure their release. He complained that the situation in Montreal was odious and that internment was due to malicious Russophile rumours discrediting the loyalty of Ukrainians. He was a member of the Committee of Ukrainians of Eastern Canada, which petitioned Ottawa about the treatment of Ukrainians. The Committee eventually formed the Ukrainian National League which worked with the Ukrainian Canadian Citizenship Committee and met with government officials to discuss internment, citizenship rights and changes to the naturalization act.
The approach of January in 1916, meant that thousands across Canada
the traditional period of Ukrainian Christmas confined within
camps. This festive period became the focus of a community-wide
to ease the trauma of the internees. The Ukrainskyi Holos (Ukrainian
newspaper coordinated an effort to send Christmas parcels to Ukrainians
camps: "into which fate has cast them through no fault of their own, but
the times commanded it." The Catholic Kanadyiskyi Rusyn
urged its readers not to forget those unfortunates who would be
Ukrainian carols in the camps while the rest of the community would be
gathering around family tables for Christmas Eve dinner. It proposed that money be collected so that every Ukrainian internee could be presented with a Christmas gift of fruit and tobacco. Through this campaign parcels were received by Ukrainian prisoners at Brandon, Petawawa, Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake.
Although civilians, Ukrainian internees were subject to the laws and
regulations of the Canadian military as outlined by the Rules of the Hague Convention. They could be fired upon if attempting to escape and were subject to a variety of disciplinary punishment for crimes, misdemeanours or insubordination. Reduced rations, solitary confinement in unheated isolation cells, and hard labour were the most common punishment.
The conduct sheet of Gawryl Semeniuk(#449) at Spirit Lake gives some insight into the strict regimen the prisoners were required to observe and the disciplinary actions they were subjected to. During a one-year period, Semeniuk was punished on seven occasions for loafing and refusing to work. His punishment consisted of confinement for as long as six days on rations of bread and water, as well as hard labour. His last offence, "loafing in the latrine," earned him "nine days confinement, three days alternate bread and water, plus eight hours of hard labour daily." The record of Stefan Galan (#12) revealed a similar level of punishment. On 3 June 1915, for the offence of "Loafing, insolence and interfering with other POWs in their work," Galan received "15 days confinement, bread and water every third day, eight hours hard labour every day."
Relations at Spirit Lake were never as tranquil as the Marsh and Redkevych reports implied and by the autumn of 1916, the situation had deteriorated to a critical level. Throughout Canada, internees were asserting their rights under the Hague Convention and refusing to perform any labour other than that required for their own well-being.
The camps in the Rocky Mountains were plagued by work stoppages and protests by prisoners who complained, among other things, of brutality and torture on the part of the military. During the fall of 1916, many of these mountain camps were closed down as the conditions within them became the subject of diplomatic protest by the Austro-Hungarian and German governments. Many of the prisoners from these camps were subsequently transferred to Kapuskasing and Spirit Lake where their militancy led to a major crisis.
G. Willrich, U.S. Consul at Quebec City, inspected Spirit Lake between 16-21 November 1916 and commented directly on the deteriorating situation there. At the time of his visit, the camp held just 275 prisoners; far fewer than its peak population of 4 Turkish, 13 German and 1,295 "Austrian" prisoners earlier that year.
Willrich prefaced his rather critical report on conditions at Spirit Lake with a statement of his personal attitude towards the camp authorities and interned prisoners. He noted his "most-friendly" relations with the commanding officer, Rinfret, and remarked that he had previously commended highly conditions at Beauport and Valcartier when those camps had been commanded by that officer:
Being of German birth, I naturally felt, that an inspection by me
should be made so as to avoid the least partiality, or bias for the
prisoners, some of them at least of my own race, but with the sole
object of leaming the facts and of arriving at a just conclusion
regarding existing conditions; with a view, moreover, if possible, of
making proper recommendations for the amelioration of such as I
might consider capable of same.... If the following report, therefore,
shall be less commendatory than those of former inspections, it is not
due to any change of disposition on my part, but to greatly changed
conditions in which I found the prisoners at this camp.
Consul Willrich saw the camp as set in country "practically a wilderness" with only sporadic "incipient" settlements, its location being "inspired by the desire to establish somewhere in this region an experimental farm, to show just what crops might grow in this high northern latitude and to ascertain the best methods to grow them."
Prisoners had been transferred from a number of other camps across
the "hard work of clearing the land of trees and underbrush, to
the thick layers of moss which cover the low lands, to drain them, to
suitable farm and camp buildings and to plant, cultivate, and harvest
as might be raised." Several hundred acres of land had been cleared,
and brought under cultivation. Thousands of cords of pulpwood had been
which about 1,000 cords were piled near the railroad track awaiting
The physical structures of the camp were reviewed, Willrich noting
new barbed wire fence was being erected along the interior lines of the
labour that "might have been utilized more properly at the time, in
of prisoners' sheds, which I found to be in a unfinished state,
therefore, insufficient to afford proper shelter and protection against the cold."
The 275 prisoners remaining in the camp consisted of 255 "Austrians,"
Bulgarians, eight Germans and two Turks. The prisoners were housed in
or "shacks," as well as in the general hospital and a second hospital
patients. They were segregated according to their attitude
the strike then gripping the camp. Begun in October by newly-arrived
the strike quickly enveloped almost the entire camp population. Of the
inmates, 210 of 255 were on strike. Only forty-eight inmates in the
willing to work. The eight German prisoners who refused to join the
strike occupied a shack of their own, as did the several dozen Austrian and miscellaneous prisoners willing to work. By contrast, the striking prisoners were housed seventy to a shed in Shacks No. 1, 3 and 5.
Conditions in Shack No. 5 which contained Austrians from all parts of that empire but "mostly from Galicia" were typical. Upon being introduced to its occupants as the American consul responsible for evaluating their condition and hearing any of their complaints, Willrich was "at once almost overwhelmed by these." He found their condition to be "a most deplorable one" with the prisoners "huddled together like a herd of sheep in winter — cold and shivering from exposure." The structure was drafty and cold, the rough lumber construction covered on the outside only with tar paper, and having a rough board floor, six inches from the ground. The shack lacked a ceiling and contained only a single unlit stove.
Nevertheless, prisoners were unyielding in their refusal to work even
to fetch wood to cook food or heat their quarters. This, however, they
refused to do, on the grounds that as civil prisoners they were entitled
to receive wood and rations, though unwilling to work, and that they
would rather freeze to death than go out and get their own wood,
pointing out, that both wood and full rations were being furnished by
the Commandant to the working prisoners, while they were deprived
of these necessaries because they had refused to work, which they
believed they were not obliged to do, under the law.
Willrich himself, with a team and wagon, went from shed to shed requesting that men join him to bring in sufficient wood for the time being, but not a single prisoner responded.
The camp prison was also inspected by Willrich who found it to be a
3Ox75 foot blockhouse containing 3-1/2 x 7-1/2 foot scantily lit,
cells. At the time of his inspection, there were four prisoners in the
with inciting their fellow prisoners to continue the strike. Prisoners
that at times they were held two or three in these cells, though this
by the Commandant.
On the second day of his visit, Willrich chaired a hearing of prisoner
complaints and received a crudely worded petition from a committee of striking prisoners in "War Shack No. 5" outlining their complaints. Karl Krauss, a German prisoner, acted as spokesman for the primarily Austrian prisoners, "most of them greatly his inferiors in education." The prisoners complained that they were denied both wood to heat their shack and proper rations. Moreover, they received only three blankets for bedding on beds without mattresses, in accommodations that were cold, wet and drafty. They were also denied access to the canteen where they previously could obtain the sundries required for proper hygiene. The prisoners complained that they were "badly treated in every way, even beaten, and [with] no freedom whatever" and asked that the consul inquire monthly as to their well-being.
Consul Willrich concurred that the prisoners in Shack No. 5 were "in a truly pitiable condition, without heat in their poorly constructed shack, and without properly cooked food." With no wood for heating or cooking, the striking prisoners had "been eating their meats uncooked for weeks and had suffered greatly from exposure to cold, in their poorly-constructed sheds." Although General Otter in Ottawa authorized prisoners to procure wood for their own use, while refusing to do other work, the strikers at Spirit Lake rejected this compromise. They maintained that in the camps from which they had been transferred, they had full rations and wood without being compelled to work:
They also pointed to the fact, that plenty of wood had been cut by the
prisoners at this camp, of which many cords were still piled near the
camp, which therefore, could be readily furnished them without
subjecting them to the severe task of getting fire-wood during the
severe winter months prevalent in that region .... They also maintained
that such wood as they might get for their own use would be diverted
to the use of the Camp in general.
Willrich stressed that the prisoners firmly believed themselves in the right and that nothing would induce them to abandon their position: they would rather freeze or starve to death, than go to work under existing circumstances, and for the wages offered them."
Other complaints pertained to rations of inedible bacon, bad meat and
Even in the working prisoners' shack, Willrich found meat "left
of the smell." No mattresses or bedding outside of blankets was supplied
a situation the consul felt uselessly severe and "wholly inadequate,
by the prisoners, to keep them from freezing in that cold climate." The
of soldiers was of the same quality but the striking prisoners refused
into the woods to cut spruce boughs for mattresses on the same grounds
boycotted the rest of their work. Willrich noted with some irony that
were many bales of straw in the camp barn which might have been used for
bedding, it was "needed apparently as bedding for a goodly number of horses, which certainly were well housed and cared for."
Prisoners also complained that their shacks could not protect them from the harsh northern winters at Spirit Lake where the temperature fell to 40-60 degrees below zero Farenheit. The camp commandant conceded as much and claimed that he was attempting to bring the shacks up to standard where they were inadequately finished or sealed. Prisoners replied that as the camp had been in operation for some two years, this work should have been a priority item completed long ago. Instead they had been compelled to perform a vast amount of work "other than that calculated to insure to their own benefit" and the current Commandant's intentions were too late "to prevent present suffering." Willrich again appeared to concur with this view of inadequate housing, washroom, and recreational facilities:
It did appear, that a great deal of work even of an ornamental
character had been performed by the prisoners during the past two
years — as ornamental walks, stone walls neatly dividing
sections of the camp and stone steps leading up to the officers'
quarters, had been built evidently at great cost in time and labour
which, if applied to the erection of good, substantial,
prisoners' quarters, would long since have left no room for complaints
about their poor condition....
During prisoner testimony regarding improper treatment by authorities,
Willrich objected to what seemed "an undue attempt, on the part of the officers present, to prevent a free presentation of such testimony as the prisoners desired to make," leading him to request and obtain permission from General Otter to examine prisoners privately. This enabled Willrich to "hear many complaints which otherwise might not have reached" him.
Most complaints about bad treatment related to the conduct of subordinate officers, "as is often the case when men of inferior intelligence are invested with autocratic powers":
The man charged with police authority at this camp, I found, had
exercised his authority in a rather brutal way, under the mistaken
notion, that these prisoners were criminals rather than unfortunate
solely through circumstances. Petty annoyances, loss of small
even physical punishment had thus apparently resulted solely to
gratify the petty officers' rather brutal instincts. When taken to task
for this privately and in a kindly manner, he admitted his fault,
and promised to do better.
Striking prisoners were denied correspondence privileges and complained that they were also refused medical care. While Willrich commended the excellence of hospital facilities, he appeared to accept as truth complaints made against the Chief Medical Officer who seemed to have "discriminated between prisoners, working and not working, giving medical attention to the former and refusing the same to the latter. The testimony was too universal on this point to doubt the truth of this serious charge." The physician denied these charges claiming that striking prisoners were shamming illness to get to a warm place.
The camp hospital had treated two hundred seventy-two prisoner cases from the time of the camp's opening. Surgical cases formed the largest group of treatments and reflected the harsh working conditions at the camp:
... injuries received by prisoners while working in a rossing mill,
erected near the camp, causing a frequent loss of fingers and other
injuries incident to that rather dangerous employment; also due to
frozen hands and feet of prisoners engaged in getting out wood during
the winter months. The low mortality at the camp seemed to show,
that despite the exposure and hardships of which the prisoners
complained, deaths from these causes have been rare.
Eight prisoners had died at the camp, six succumbed to tuberculosis,
and one to chronic nephritis.
Perhaps the most valuable portion of Willrich's report was his documentation of individual prisoner's complaints. It is here that one sense of the personal experiences of Ukrainians who were swept up by internment operations in Canada and their determination along other prisoners to refuse further labour in the camps.
POW # 267Y, Harry Kruczelnicky, declared unequivocally that "As
Govenunent took me prisoner, Government should provide for me. Will not go to work." Prisoner Jokowys, #335, asserted: "Have worked twenty-three months for nothing. Will rather die now than work longer." prisoner Ivan Jacyscyn, # 178Y, pleaded "Can work no more. Have rheumatism and have seen the doctor. Doctor told me to get out, because I did not work; that he had no medicine for men who have rheumatism and refuse to work."
Nicola Nachamko, # 1019, complained "beef stinks, potatoes are not good,
bad, never slept in such a place before." Ivan Rachmisbreck, # 24,
always worked well since his imprisonment at Spirit Lake in January 1915
have worked too long for the Government and now do not get enough to
not get enough to eat before I quit work and now get less. Now will not
There were one thousand five hundred men who cut wood — there
to be enough." Oftude Boka, # 908, came to Montreal in 1912 and had
at Spirit Lake for a year: "Do not want to work any more, did not get
to eat. Corporal hit me, nobody lets me see the Colonel, nor the orderly
Worked all winter getting wood on sleighs, and when sick, was not
to go to the hospital. Do not care whether I die or not." Hassan
Taliman, # 1052, declared simply, "No work because no pay."
The most compelling case to appear before Consul Willrich was POW # 1100, H. Domytryk, a father of four children (aged nine, seven, two and a half, and one), who was arrested in March of 1916 in Edmonton where he worked for the Swift Packing Company and was paying off a small house he had purchased. Forced to leave his family with but a few dollars to live on, Domytryk was initially interned at Lethbridge and later transferred to Spirit Lake, over two thousand five hundred kilometres away from his home and family. The prisoner feared that his wife was forced to beg for bread and that his children were starving and suffering from exposure in their small house. Willrich described his first meeting with Domytryk when the "poor father" handed him a "pathetic letter" written in English by his eldest child, nine year-old daughter Katie.
My dear father:
We havent nothing to eat and they do not want to give us no wood.
My mother has to go four times to get someething to eat. It is better
with you, because we had everything to eat. This shack is no good,
my mother is going down town every day and I have to go with her
and I don't go to school at winter. It is cold in that shack. We your
small children Kiss your hands my dear father. Goodby my dear
father. Come home right away.
Willrich concluded that the problem at Spirit Lake and other Canadian
lack of any clear understanding on whether prisoners under military law
be compelled to work. If labor was not compulsory, then the punishments
"were not justified, and the men should have their full rations and be
the comfort they now lack and which at the time of my visit made their
a deplorable one." He felt that the men would persist a long time in
for what they considered their rights under law even though "half
their strength, refusal of medicine increase their ailments, and
absence of fuel increase their discomfort, even lead to serious disease." He suggested the possible payment of going rates to prisoners in order to clear up the impasse and consequent sense of "injury, injustice and suffering." Anticipating any comparison to Canadian prisoners of war in Europe, Willrich stressed the civilian nature of the prisoners in Canada and summarized the contradictions and problems of Canada's internment policies:
Canadians are not in Germany or Austria-Hungary ... at the invitation
of those countries, but are there as prisoners of war, captured in
battle. The prisoners in Canadian Internment Camps, on the other
hand, came to the Dominion as peaceful emigrants and the great
majority of them at least have been good, law-abiding residents since
their arrival, doing their bit to further the development of its great
resources. In other words, these men now held as prisoners, as a
class, are good, sturdy, inoffensive men, able and willing to work,
most of them desirous of becoming Canadian citizens. The idea,
therefore, of a treatment of such men as quasi-criminals seems
contrary to the very best interests of the Dominion, and the temporary
saving, which may be effected by the payment, or rather allowance,
of such pittance as 25 cents per day for a full day's work, not even
payable to them or to their families in full, seems to be as inexpedient
as unjust, the former because men will not render a day's work for
that amount, even when pretending to do so; unjust because most of
these men had good profitable work prior to their internment and
families to support, which now are punished more than they are.
The unsatisfactory conditions in Canada's internment camps, in Willrich's opinion, reflected the government's inability to find a proper and equitable method of guarding national interests a gainst the presence of thousands of residents of foreign birth from enemy countries. Although "deeply agitated anaroused" by its participation in the war, the country could not afford to treat all those interned within its borders as enemies "considering the circumstances under which they were invited to come to Canada." A consistent policy in the administration of the camps was required which would be both "just to the prisoner and to the Dominion."
There is no doubt in my mind, that at the present moment, the great
majority of the prisoners at Spirit lake could safely be returned to their
homes and families, and that such return would be more profitable to
Canada in the end than their retention in the camps as unwilling
workers or strikers ....
The irony of the treatment of Ukrainian and other internees, as noted by Willrich's perceptive report, was that while thousands of Ukrainians were interned in Canada as enemy aliens, perhaps an equal number, both naturalized and not, served with the Canadian military in Europe. Proscriptions against such enlistment specified that un-naturalized immigrants from Austro-Hungary were not permitted to serve in any branches of the Canadian forces while those naturalized were allowed to serve in Canada only.
Those Ukrainians who had come from the Russian Empire were obligated for European service, whether naturalized or not, and approximately two thousand of them served in Europe. Philip Konoval was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest order in the British Empire, for his "most conspicuous bravery and leadership" during battle.
Thousands of others, for whom enlistment was forbidden, registered as
Russians, Poles and Bohemians, or anglicized their names in order to serve. Many of these volunteers died overseas. Thousands served with Canadian Forestry Division units in England, Scotland and France where some of the forestry camps were as high as 70 per cent Ukrainian in composition.
Hundreds of Ukrainians enlisted at points within Quebec. While Henry and Feodor Romaniuk were interned at Spirit Lake, a namesake, Pte. Roman Romaniuk, who enlisted at Montreal, was killed in action in France on 15 September 1916 while serving with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. Pte. Trofim Jourinski of the 19th Battalion, who enlisted at Quebec, was killed in action the same day and Pte. Feodosy Michorod of the 49th Battalion, a Montreal enlistee, was missing in action.
A member of Romaniuk's unit, Pte. Semen Semchenko was killed in action
day. In a number of cases, Ukrainians who had successfully enlisted
Canadian Expeditionary Force were subsequently discharged as enemy
and interned. Pte. Nick Derryck of the lst Canadian contingent of the
such case. He was discharged and interned first at Amherst, Nova
then at Valcartier and finally at Kapuskasing.
The massive flow of manpower into the Canadian military was a major factor in the release of internees back into the workforce as paroled labourers. As manpower shortages in critical industries became apparent, the futility of keeping innocent and able workers in a punitive and less than productive setting became abundantly clear.
Spirit Lake camp emptied during the summer of 1916. Over six hundred men
to a number of large corporations: 32 to the Minto Coal Co. of New
43 to the Asbestos Corporation, 50 to the Canadian National
100 to the Transcontinental National Railway,172 to the Canadian
Railway, and 219 to the Welland Ship Canal. Others were released to
companies and individuals such as the General Bakery and the Universal
Co. (J. Friedman) in Montreal; Campbell and Forbes in Amos Quebec,
Mr. Bernard at Harricana. Some two hundred of the Ukrainian
Lake were shipped to work in the steel mills and coal mines of Nova
Cape Breton. Years later, the employment cards of paroled internees
Sainiuk and Shewchuk at the Sydney steel mills still made note of the fact that they had arrived as prisoners of war from "concentration camps." A member of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party from Lachine, J. Drobei, was released from Spirit Lake after eighteen months to take up work in a Sydney steel Mill.
While the employment of paroled prisoners was to be on the same basis as
employees, in many cases it meant continued separation from families and
restrictions on mobility. Many of those paroled were sent to isolated
in northern Ontario, which they were not allowed to leave without
The hard labour, extreme isolation and primitive conditions within
work camps made them almost as oppressive as the internment camps from
the men had been paroled. General Otter received numerous letters from
Ukrainian internees serving on railroad crews, asking for permission to
rejoin their families. A number, working on the railroad at Sturgeon Falls,
Ontario, complained of the confusion surrounding their status. Writing in
Ukrainian, Nick Bodnar asked Otter to issue a registry card which would allow him to go to his relatives in Montreal, whom he had not seen in three years. The translated letter read:
... here the police authorities do not permit to leave, they say that
leave without a registry card I will be sentenced to six months. I am
not looking for anything like that, I want to abide by the law of the
land. If you, Sir General, gave me freedom I do not see why I should
be punished when I wish to go without a registry card. I request you,
Sir General, this favour."
A further hindrance to the paroled release of internees was the
on the part of government agencies to give up their supply of cheap
The Director-General of Experimental Farms, M. Grisdale, protested
the depletion of internee labour at the farms in northern Ontario and
Despite this resistance, the decision was made to close the Spirit Lake
November of 1916. On 11 January 1917, 178 remaining prisoners were
to Kapuskasing for continued internment. On 28 January, the militia
its operation at Spirit Lake under the direction of Lt. G.W. Meldrum.
Farm equipment and facilities were handed over to the federal Department of Agriculture, the kitchen facilities shipped to the camp at Vernon, B.C. and hospital staff and facilities were transferred to Kapuskasing.
The closing of Spirit Lake meant that the facility at Montreal was the
site in Quebec for the holding of enemy aliens destined for internment
and Kapuskasing in Ontario. The lockup rarely held more than
prisoners and often held none at all. There was, however, a brief
during the summer of 1918 when authorities turned their attention
the apprehension and detention of "radical" enemy aliens.
By 1918, the social and political climate of Canada had changed significantly as increasing numbers of demobilized soldiers returned from Europe. Rising class consciousness began to lead to stubborn conflicts between labour and capital.
The anti-foreigner sentiments, which had heightened during the war,
the domestic economic front with the non-British being blamed for
unrest and political radicalism. Consequently, new legislation was
to investigate, incarcerate and possibly deport hostile or undesirable
Publications appearing in twelve "enemy" languages, including Ukrainian,
briefly and then some only allowed with parallel translations.
Fourteen radical organizations, including the Ukrainian affiliate of the Social Democratic Party of Canada, were outlawed and all meetings (other than religious services) conducted in Finnish, Russian or Ukrainian were banned, as were strikes and lockouts.
Ukrainians in Quebec were not spared during this push to control
in May 1918, Ukrainian Social Democratic branches in Ontario (Ottawa,
Brantford) and Montreal in Quebec were raided, with printed materials
confiscated and many un-naturalized members shipped to Kapuskasing for
In Montreal, Ivan Hnyda, who established and ran the Novyi Svit
publication and print shop, first for the Ukrainian Social Democratic
and later as an independent voice of Ukrainian workers, had his
at 173 Clark Street padlocked. Hnyda came to the attention of
because of a pamphlet he had printed for the Ottawa branch of the
Ukrainian Social Democratic Party calling working men and women to celebrate May Day so that: "the holy words of the proletariat as to equality, brotherhood, liberty and happiness of the whole of mankind will be cried out on the 1st of May."
The Secretary of State of Canada, pursuant to the order-in-council on
censorship, authorized the Dominion Police in Montreal to seize and destroy all copies of the leaflet, to seize the printing presses, plant and machinery used to print, publish and distribute it and to close indefinitely the premises where the presses were located. Arrested in May 1918, Hnyda was imprisoned in Montreal until August, when he was transferred in chains and under heavy guard, along with dozens of other Ukrainians from across Canada, to the internment camp at Kapuskasing. Released from captivity on 9 January 1920, Hnyda returned to Montreal to find that his shop had been turned over to a barber and all of his books and papers recycled at a paper factory.
With this flurry of activity directed against radical aliens having
internment station was finally closed on 30 November 1918. The
at Vernon, B.C. and Kapuskasing, Ontario continued, however, to operate
February of 1920.
The internment of Ukrainians in Canada during the Great War was prompted
their having constituted a military or security threat than a
nativism and conditions of economic and political crises. The result was
of restrictive laws and the detention of several thousand people
conditions which did not always meet the requirements governing the
of civilian non-combatants in times of war. While the inclusion of
and other immigrants into a prisoner-of-war status should have
them with some measure of protective security, what they received
was punitive incarceration and a regime of forced labour on behalf of
Canadian state. Restrictions and inconveniences were inevitable during the cataclysm of a world war but the unnecessary limitation of liberties, the unjustifiable severity of punishments, the ill-treatment and indignities which were part of Canada's internment operations during the World War cannot be ignored and stand as a harsh reminder of how fragile human rights and civil liberties are in times of crisis.
Very little physical evidence remains today to tell of those
At Spirit Lake,
the federal farm built by internees continues to operate. The prisoners'
is still evident with black crosses marking the spots of those who were
rest there. The "Ruthenian" chapel built by the prisoners burned down
a fire that swept through the area in 1920. When the Internment
Branch wrapped up its records, financial accounts relating to cash
from internees as well as accounts for unpaid earnings were left on
Bank of Canada. For Spirit Lake camp, a total of two hundred fifteen
had an outstanding cash account of three hundred eighty-five dollars
cents and unpaid earnings of nine thousand five hundred ten dollars and
17 cents, the equivalent of thousands of man-months of labour.
There is no monument at Spirit Lake explaining how and why over a thousand Ukrainians and other immigrants - men, women and children - had been imprisoned there. The story of these people, whose hope and belief in a new land of opportunity could not withstand the mistrust and fear fanned by the ill winds of war, is still little known and even less appreciated. A novel, written about the Abitibi region, noted that, long after the war, the forests at Spirit Lake evoked a heavy emotional quality which betrayed the unspoken and terrible events which had taken place within its confines.
In 1992, almost eight decades after the tragic events at Spirit Lake, Mary Haskett, the last known survivor of the Ukrainians interned there, spoke sadly of her childhood memories and of the loss of her two-year-old sister, Carolka Manko, who died in May of 1915 and was laid to rest there. Her words of remembrance are perhaps the best epitaph for the people who were confined within the barbed wire fences at Spirit Lake and across Canada during the First World War:
They were just ordinary farm folks, I guess.
They thought they'd try their luck at a bigger country ....
But the dream fell apart.