Winnipeg Community Commemorates the WWI Internment Operations

Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Manitoba.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Manitoba Provincial Council (UCC-MPC) commemorated and honoured the sufferers of the Internment Operations during WWI (between 1914 and 1920) of over 8500 Ukrainians and other Central and Eastern Europeans, hosting a one day symposium and unveiling of a statue on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. The two events were held on Saturday October 24, 2015 in Winnipeg.

The internment of 8,579 people, branded as “enemy aliens” and who were forced into 24 internment camps located across Canada – from Nanaimo to Halifax (one was located in Brandon, Manitoba) – was a major blow to the recent settlers in Canada, especially in the rural areas. In addition there were some 5 receiving stations (one was located in Winnipeg). Men, women and children suffered during this internment operation, not because of anything that they had done, but only because of who they were and where they had come from. In addition some 88,000 individuals had to register with the RCMP, carry identity cards and report regularly to the police.

The commemoration in Winnipeg on the 100th anniversary of the initiation of the Canadian government’s internment operations began with a one day Symposium (Oct. 24 – 10am to 2pm in Committee Room 254 of the Manitoba Legislature) chaired by Dr. Stella Hryniuk and Dr. Roman Yereniuk. Five academics presented papers on various topics of the Internment Operations. Peter Melnycky (Dept. of Alberta Culture) provided the historical background to the Internment while Dr. Bohdan Kordan (University of Saskatchewan) focused on the issues of human rights, obligations and diplomacy during the Operations. Prof. Iryna Konstantiuk (University of Manitoba) spoke on resource development for schools in Social Studies and provided examples from her research development with Manitoba Education. James Kominowski (University of Manitoba) provided a bibliographical survey of publications on the topic at the University while Andrea Malysh (Program Manager of the First World War Internment Recognition Fund) informed the 80 participants of the various projects funded by the Internment Recognition Fund. During the Symposium there was ample room for questions and answers as well as discussion.

The second part of the commemoration was the unveiling of a statue on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature Building (immediately north of the Taras Shevchenko monument – on the north- west side of the Legislature) attended by some 200 people. The bronze statue was commissioned by UCC-MPC and was created by Ontario artist John Boxtel in 2015. The statue depicts a typical internee with fingers pointing to himself as if asking “Why me!”. Similar representations of this statue are located at another five internment sites across Canada. On the base-pedestal of the statue are the words “REMEMBER, LEARN AND NEVER FORGET” in English, French, Ukrainian and thirteen other central and east European languages (recognizing that all these ethno cultural communities were influenced by the Internment operations of 1914 to 1920).

The program was hosted by Oksana Bondarchuk, chair of UCC – MPC, and began with greetings from the three levels of government (MP Kevin Lamoreux – Federal; Minister Dave Chomiak – Province of Manitoba and Councillor Ross Eadie – City of Winnipeg). As well, several community leaders also brought greetings including Emil Yereniuk (UCC National Executive and its Internment Committee), Andrea Malysh (First World War Internment Recognition Fund and its Endowment) and Grazyna Galezowski (Polish Congress of Manitoba). Later they all participated in the unveiling of the Internment statue while the blessing with holy water was concelebrated by Metropolitan Lawrence (Ukrainian Catholic Church of Canada) and Very Rev. Gene Maximiuk (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada). Closing remarks and words of gratitude were provided by Joanne Lewandoski, co-chair of the event.

The commemoration honoured with dignity and honours the many Ukrainians and others that suffered and were humiliated during Canada’s First World War Internment Operations 1914-1920.