On Friday, August 22, Canadians unveiled 100 plaques across the country, marking the 100th anniversary of The War Measures Act and the start of the internment operations. “Project CTO” (meaning one hundred) involved a wave of unveilings and commemorations across Canada beginning in Amherst, Nova Scotia and concluding in Nanaimo, BC. Ukrainian, German, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian and Armenian communities unveiled plaques at 11am local time. This is the first time a project of this scale has happened in Canada.
Among the 100 locations was the Ukrainian National Federation, Toronto Branch building located at 145 Evans Avenue in Toronto. During the unveiling at the Branch, UNF National President Ihor Bardyn stressed that the internment story is not only important to the communities that suffered as a result of the War Measures Act, but also is of significance for the wider history of Canada. Mr. Bardyn was the chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Internment Redress Committee in the early 1990’s, during the time when the lobbying began. The redress campaign, which began with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was completed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Bardyn said: “Today’s unveiling is important not only for the fact that we have unveiled the historical marker… but just as importantly it is very essential to note that this plaque represents the strength of our democracy. There are many countries with dark chapters in their histories which are not only swept under, they are revised or changed or made to suit the current regime in power. The strength of Canada’s democracy, the strength of this government is of course the fact that this government did the right thing.”
Mr. Bardyn noted that not everyone in the government at the time thought that the internement was the best way to deal with the situation. As the prime minister at the time Sir Wilfrid Laurier said: “…these different races will be disposed to come to this country, when they know that Canada has not met its pledges and promises to these people, who have settled in our midst. . . if it be said in Canada that the pledges which we have given to immigration when inviting them to come to this country to settle with us, can be broken with impunity, that we will not trust these men, and that we will not be true to the promises which we made to them, then I despair for the future of this country.”
During the unveiling, Slawko Borys, president of the UNF Toronto Branch, stated: “Even after their (prisoner’s) time in the camps they returned, slowly, to their lives in the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Their experience helped to shape this organization, and ensured that as focused as we are on promoting Ukraine’s struggle for independence, we remained committed to our Canadian home, and focused on developing the Ukrainian-Canadian identity.”
Along with the “CTO” plaque, the other plaque was unveiled, in honor of Filip Konowal. Filip Konowal, most highly decorated Ukrainian Canadian, received the Victoria cross from King George for his actions in France. He was also awarded the British War Medal (1914–1920), Victory Medal (1914–1919), George VI Coronation Medal (1937), and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953). Slawko Borys made another powerful statement: “Imagine that at the same time, the same people were either being awarded by the King for honour, valour and patriotism and others were being imprisoned by him for a lack of it. Nothing distinguished them except the circumstances…”
Father Yaroslav Schudrak provided a memorial service to honour those who had been interned. After the unveiling, the plaque was blessed. Mark Grimes, City Councillor for Ward 6, stated that he was pleased to participate in the unveiling ceremony and congratulated all those who worked tirelessly to uncover this chapter in Canadian history. Olya Grod, Ukrainian Canadian Congress representative to the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund and Executive Director of the UNF, stated that “It’s important for the next generation of Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity, to know what happened and stand on guard for their civil rights. Now that we have the Endowment Fund, it is our job to put forward projects that will inform and educate future generations.”