The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund: history and future

    Andrew Hladyshevsky Q.C. and Kerri Parnell

    Daria Bajus for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, a $10 million endowment, was established to commemorate and educate Canadians about Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914 to 1920.

    Represented by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA), the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko (UCFTS), and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), the endowment was officially signed on May 9, 2008.

    The Ukrainian Canadian Community was represented by three individuals in the negotiations and signing of the fund, Mr. Andrew Hladyshevsky Q.C. (UCFTS), Mr. Paul Grod (UCC) and Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk (UCCLA).

    Hladyshesvky, a corporate partner at Denton’s Law Firm, President of the Shevchenko Foundation for 20 years, and Vice President of the Canadian First

    World War Internment Council, among many other titles, started his journey at the age of six when living in the Ukrainian community of Calgary.

    Frequently visiting Banff National Park during his childhood, he recalls his father continually saying, “Our people were imprisoned here.” In the 1950s, his father, who he labels as “the first internment researcher” he knew, developed a document of reports and archives across Western Canada through the Calgary Herald. This document encompassed the coming of Ukrainians through the West, who he explained were thought of as “a subspecies by the papers”.

    “My interest started with my family, although, back then, I didn’t fully understand,” explained Hladyshevsky. “When I got into Law School, my very first class was a Civil Rights class in the 70s. I was researching the internment of the Japanese Canadians, and my professor said ‘You know, if we had more time I’d have you do a paper on the Ukrainians’. I told him about my upbringing, and he described in great detail the War Measures Act and how it was invented for the WW1 internees. Not just Ukrainians, but people from the Austria Hungarian Empire and the Turkish Empire.”

    Hladyshevsky began his involvement in the Ukrainian community in the early 90s and quickly became aware of its fractious nature due to the falling out between organizations.

    “When speaking to government officials, they always said, ‘There’s the problem with your community. You’re disunited. Because you’re a splinter group, you’re never going to have an agreement without consensus,'” he explained.

    Having formed a relationship with Liberal Cabinet Minister, Sheila Copps, who was the Heritage Minister at the time, he described a meeting to which she showed up with a sheet of reasons why the government did not want to settle. “As a result of that, I said we have an opportunity here. If I can bring everyone under one umbrella and go see Minister Copps again, we may be able to settle.”

    The organizations agreed to form a tripartite group and work on a consensus outlining the community’s position in going to see the government.

    After six years, three Prime Ministers, six different ministers in charge of files and 18 reports sent to the UCC, Hladyshevsky described the process as a torturous one.

    He recalls members of the community being against the fund in the beginning. “This is a WW1 issue, it’s done and over with they would say.”

    “I understood that,” he continued. “But for me, it has always been a human rights issue. Can you imagine being in prison as a young man and dying from tuberculosis in the middle of nowhere? Probably praying to God for mercy and hoping that maybe, someone someday will remember you. Think about it. That’s a powerful thought,” he said. “I’m not one who’s going to forget about that. Neither will Paul Grod, and neither will Dr. Luciuk. Those people deserve better. They deserve more.”

    Hladyshevsky recalls telling Minister Copps, “You may think that you can deal with me. But I’m not the one that you will eventually have to silence. Because my children will take this cause up, and my children’s children will take this cause up, so why would you not want to deal with us now?”

    With a “bit of a blessing from on high,” in February of 2008, the Ukrainian community and the Canadian government finally came to an agreement of $10 million with the caveat that the government will not take back the money at the end of 15 years and it will remain with the Shevchenko Foundation for the benefit of Ukrainian Canadians.

    The CFWWIRF supports projects that commemorate and recognize the experiences of numerous ethno cultural communities affected by the First World War Internment, not just Ukrainians, through a grant program.

    Multiple-time grant recipient, producer, writer and actor, Ryan Boyko, has worked with the fund over the last ten years.

    While attending the Banff World Media Festival, Boyko happened to capture footage of a camp at Castle Mountain and proposed to do all of the camps in the same style. The Camps, a 33 episode web series has been viewed in 174 countries around the world, winning two awards for New Media.

    Boyko felt as if two key elements were missing from the series, however. The first: what happened to the women and children while these men were interned? The second: why should we care today?

    “I went back to the fund and said I want to turn this into a feature documentary,” he explained. “So, I did.”

    That Never Happened reveals the story of the operations and mentions the fund several times. “I don’t think you can tell the story of interment today without including what has been done to date,” said Boyko.

    “In high school, I saw a documentary on internment operations. I asked my grade ten teacher to tell us about the Ukrainian internment. He said, ‘You mean the Japanese interment in WW2?’ and I said no.. Ukrainian. He said, ‘that never happened.’ Here we are almost 20 years later, and I created a documentary with that title.”

    Boyko describes the biggest challenge of his research being the constant adverse reactions from government officials, scholars and members of the Ukrainian community. “They would all say who cares; it’s over, it’s not interesting, no one wants to hear that story,” he explained. “That was hard because here is this period of history, this injustice, that I am now hooked on. Believe me, there were many times I wanted to quit, but the need to tell this story was there. When there are members of the community who don’t see the value, it is shocking to me and pushes me even harder.”

    Ultimately, he was able to prove that people “do in fact care.” That Never Happened received seven awards for Best Documentary and was shown in film festivals all over the world. The documentary was selected as Canada’s contribution to the 70th anniversary of the Universal declaration of human rights and the film screened at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland in 2018.

    Boyko describes his relationship with the fund as “career propelling.” “This is not the career that I had chosen. The opportunity presented itself to me and changed my life in ways I could never imagine,” he said. “It has been invaluable, and I appreciate the time and investment that they have put in me. They continue to be my supporters and champion the work that I am doing. That’s very rewarding.”

    Artist, Kerri Parnell, is also a grant recipient for her art exhibit Pause in Plight.

    A graduate of the University of Manitoba and then NSCAD University in Halifax, the artist feels most “at home” when she’s in front of a canvas.

    While living in Cherryville, British Columbia, Parnell was hired by the Cherryville Historical Society to paint a commemoration painting for the Internment Camp that was there.”It was fascinating to look through old historic photos and to walk the land where the camp was,” said Parnell. “I felt honoured to have the opportunity to commemorate those who were interned and to landmark my community with this important piece of Canadian history.”

    Parnell met Andrea Malysh, the program manager of CFWWIRF, after the unveiling ceremony of the painting. Months later, they brainstormed the idea of a travelling art exhibition. “As we spoke, the exhibit came flooding to me with images, I could see the whole thing before me like I was watching a movie,” she exclaimed.

    The artist put together a proposal and flew to Winnipeg for the opportunity to present the idea for a three-part grant. The first was a research grant of $2,500. “I really wanted to understand more deeply the impact that the camps had on those who were interned, who was affected, why and when?” She presented the second portion of the grant (creating the artwork) for $70,000 and was awarded the grant in February 2017. “The historical idea did not change, however, more pieces were added, and some paintings got larger,” she explained.

    The inspiration for Pause in Plight came from her research on the subject. “It’s imperative that Canadian’s are made aware of what happens on our own soil,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for art relative to social movements, history and culture. More than just a beautiful painting, I am drawn to art that speaks volumes behind the work, art that informs the public that moves us and educates us.”

    She describes this opportunity as “an artist’s dream” and thanks the Endowment Council for their efforts and opportunity to create Pause in Plight.

    “Without CFWWIRF, I would imagine that this piece of history would have remained buried. It begs to question if there are more unknown facts about Canada, and the world at large? CFWWIRF is a reminder, that important issues can be addressed if we work together towards a common goal.”

    Community effort is seen as an important element in the foundation of the fund.

    “There’s no one organization who should take credit for this,” pressed Hladyshevsky. “This is what the Ukrainian community can accomplish when it becomes united.”

    With the endowment shortly coming to an end, Hladyshevsky urges the community to think of how they will continue to do their work; emphasizing his belief in the younger generation.

    “We’ve never had more intelligent, creative and remarkable young people in the history of our community,” he said. “Only because of all the sacrifices that were made for them to get there. But they are smart, brilliant, and passionate too. I want them always to remember the context from where they came.”

    And his context is this, “I could have been born into an infinite number of communities. My God gave me the unbelievable privilege of being born into a Ukrainian family. We’ve been given this amazing group of gifts, and the internment fund is just one more of those gifts. An instrument to be used for the good and benefit to all.”

    Pause in Plight is currently booked until the end of 2022, (visit Events page for upcoming tour schedule).