Internment monument unveiled in St. Paul

Commemorative Memorial Service conducted by Fr. Andrij Nykyforuk of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Catholic Church (left) and Rev. Fr. Peter Haugen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (right) Photo by Roman Zakaluzny

NP-UN Western Bureau/UCCLA.

Members of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation (UCCLF) and its activist counterpart, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA), on Sat. Sept. 28 unveiled Canada’s newest monument dedicated to remembering the country’s first national internment operations, in St. Paul, located 200 kilometres east of Edmonton.

Titled 21 Strands, the monument is unique, composing not just a trilingual educational (English-French-Ukrainian) plaque, but also an image of internees standing behind 21 horizontal lengths of Canadian barbed wire.

Well over 100 people attended the unveiling ceremony, presided over by Caroline Yewchin from the local Ukrainian community. Among those who spoke or laid wreaths were St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller, Chairperson of Champions for Change, Penny Fox, a representative of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, as well as delegates from the Edmonton Chapter of the League of Ukrainian Canadians. Special thanks to Rev. Fr. Peter Haugen of the All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Fr. Andrij Nykyforuk of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Between 1914 and 1920, 8,579 “enemy aliens” were incarcerated, among them women and children. Of this number, only 3,138, according to General Otter (commander of the internment operations), could be classified as “prisoners of war,” 817 were actual enemy service men and 1,192 were civilian German residents of Canada. Of the remaining 5,441, a majority (perhaps as many as 5,000) were of Ukrainian origin. Over 80,000 others, mostly Ukrainians, were categorized as “enemy aliens” and obliged to report regularly to their local police authorities or to the NWMP. They were issued identity papers that had to be carried at all times, the penalty for noncompliance being arrest and possible imprisonment.

In May 2008, representatives of the Ukrainian Community reached an agreement with the Government of Canada providing for the creation of an endowment fund, Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, to support commemorative, educational, scholarly and cultural projects intended to remind all Canadians of this episode in our nations’ history.

“The internment had lasting scars on the Ukrainian-Canadian community. In 1941 a RCMP report on the 8th national convention of the Ukrainian National Federation noted that many of the community’s leaders remained “in fear of the barbed wire fence.” The interned men, women and children, and their families suffered by their unjust internment. Many of them never told their future families of their internment. Simply put, it was wrong.

“History has taught us that when any ethnic group is degraded, it degrades all human values. It degrades the teaching of religious doctrines. It degrades the core values of pluralism and democracy. Most of all, it degrades the moral character of a nation,” said newly elected UCCLF chair Borys Sydoruk.

“We’re very pleased with the evocative appearance of the monument, as well as the local turnout for the unveiling,” he added. “I’d like to thank the St. Paul community, particularly Dr. Amil Shapka and his son Tanis for their extraordinary efforts in making this monument possible. We couldn’t have done it without them and so many others, and we hope to do similar educational and commemorative projects throughout Kalyna Country, and elsewhere in Canada.”

Members also discussed near future initiatives, including a project title Heroes of Their Day, which will honour the Ukrainian Canadian men and women who volunteered for overseas duty during the Second World War, some of whom helped rescue and settle Ukrainian displaced persons from war-torn Europe to Canada.

This project will involve the unveiling of a commemorative stained-glass window in London, England, in the spring of 2020.

The public is invited to financially support this project and others by donating at www.ucclf.ca

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