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Ukrainian life after internment 1920-1946

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to determine what daily life was like for Ukrainian-Canadians between 1920-1946 after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including posters, photographs, newspaper articles, interviews, speeches, letters, journal articles and books.

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Primary sources

1. The “One Big Issue” |

2. Great War Veterans Association parade |

3. One language, one flag|

4. Assimilation and prejudice |

5. Ukrainian-Canadian print shop |

6. Born a Bohunk |

7. Lord Tweedsmuir’s visit to Ukrainian-Canadians |

8. Ukrainian-Canadian cultural festival |

9. A letter from a farmer |

10. Reaction to communist supporters in the Ukrainian-Canadian community |

Secondary sources

1. Assimilating into Canadian society |

2. Occupational and economic development |

3. Ukrainians in Canadian political life |

4. New immigration and new challenges |

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Student tasks

Question: What was life like for Ukrainian-Canadians in Canada from 1920 to 1946?

When determining what life was like for Ukrainian-Canadians after the end of World War I, you may want to consider the following aspects:

  • attitudes toward, and treatment of Ukrainians by other members of society
  • the degree to which Ukrainian-Canadians assimilated into and established themselves within Canadian society
  • contributions to Canadian society by Ukrainian-Canadians.

Teacher notes

The following notes on topics addressed in the History Docs are intended to enhance teachers' understanding of the sources and ability to guide students in interpreting them.

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Historical context for teachers

Ukrainian internment during WW I

  • Of the 171 000 immigrants of Ukrainian ethnic origin who came to Canada between 1892 and 1914, many did not obtain Canadian citizenship. When Britain entered the war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in August 1914, Ukrainians who had Austro-Hungarian citizenship were designated as enemy aliens (citizens of a country that is at war with the country in which they are living).
  • From October 1914 to February 24, 1920, 80 000 individuals, the majority Ukrainian, were forced to report regularly to special registrars or to local police forces. These supposed enemy aliens were issued identity papers that had to be carried at all times, and those failing to do so could be subjected to arrest, fine or even imprisonment.
  • Restrictions were imposed on freedom of speech, association and movement for enemy aliens. Municipalities were told to watch all Germans and Austrians living within their areas. Out of patriotism, many employers dismissed Austrians and Germans from work.
  • In some cases, enemy aliens were imprisoned in internment camps throughout Canada, where they were required to work for various government projects for little pay and in poor living conditions.
  • In total, 8579 enemy aliens were imprisoned in one of 24 internment camps across Canada. Although no formal tally of ethnic origin exists, the majority of surnames in the camps were Ukrainian.
  • Due to labour shortages across Canada during the last two years of the war (1916 to 1918), many internment camps closed because internees were paroled to private companies to work as full-time employees, or shipped to larger camps. They were allowed to work for municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, or for the railway companies.
  • Paroled Ukrainians were forced to move to different spots across Canada without their families, and many were employed in industries in which they had no previous experience. Several camps (in Vernon, British Columbia; Kapuskasing, Ontario; and Amherst, Nova Scotia) were not closed until 1919 or 1920, a full year and a half after the end of the war.

Post-war Ukrainian immigration

  • During World War I, Ukraine served as a battleground for fighting between Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers), and Russia, which was part of the Triple Entente with Britain and France.
  • During the fighting, entire regions, towns and cities in Ukraine, including many farm buildings, equipment and livestock, were destroyed by fighting, and over 20 percent of Ukrainian farmers lost their farms.
  • After the Russian revolution in 1917, many Ukrainian nationalists attempted to gain independence for Ukraine. After several unsuccessful attempts at independence, Ukrainian territory was eventually overrun in 1921 by four nations: the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Poland.
  • Disappointed by the failure to create an independent Ukrainian nation, many who had participated in the independence movement emigrated from Ukraine. Canada was an attractive place to immigrate to because of the cheap land, stable political life and large numbers of Ukrainian immigrants already living in Canada.
  • In the early 1920s, however, the Canadian government was worried about the impact of large numbers of non-British groups on national life and began to categorize immigrants into “preferred” and “non-preferred” categories.
  • Ukrainians were designated as “non-preferred” immigrants and, to be allowed to immigrate to Canada, were required to have relatives, be farmers or come as labourers or domestic workers. In addition, single immigrants and the heads of families were required to demonstrate basic literacy in their native language (Ukrainian).
  • Nearly 70 000 Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Canada during the interwar years (1919 to 1939) and the majority of these immigrants settled in Ontario and Québec.
  • Compared with the first wave of Ukrainian immigration prior to World War I, the interwar immigrants were generally more financially secure and better educated. They were also able to rely on a well-established Ukrainian-Canadian community to ease their transition.

Arrival in Canada

  • Aid organizations, such as St. Raphael’s Ukrainian Immigrants Welfare Association of Canada, worked with railway companies to provide protection and help to would-be Ukrainian immigrants during their departure, arrival and settlement.
  • The arrival of more Ukrainians also invigorated the already rich Ukrainian cultural life in Canada. During the interwar years, Ukrainian libraries and community halls hosted film, dance, literature and sports events regularly, while Ukrainian political, religious, youth and men’s and women’s organizations developed into nationwide associations.
  • The interwar years featured a significant demographic shift as more Canadians began living in urban than rural areas for the first time in Canadian history. In 1911, only 15 percent of Ukrainian-Canadians lived in cities. By 1941, that number had increased to 34 percent. Many of the younger generation of Ukrainians looked to urban centres as a source of educational opportunities and higher living standards.
  • Modern farming techniques encouraged urbanization because the increasing mechanization of farms reduced the demand for workers. Many Ukrainians who continued farming the Prairies expanded the size of their farms by purchasing new tracts of land from other Canadian settlers who moved to urban centres.
  • While many Ukrainians hoped the end of the war would put an end to the persecution they faced, the presence of a vocal Ukrainian-Canadian communist group increased the  persecution during the Red Scare that followed the Russian revolution.
  • Moreover, the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 kept the coals of prejudice stoked, as newspapers blamed the labour disruption on communists, anarchists, immigrants and aliens, again targeting Ukrainian-Canadians as suspect and disloyal citizens.
  • The number of Ukrainian immigrants declined during the early years of the depression when the Canadian government accepted fewer and fewer immigrants. It was no until after World War II that Canada experienced a third wave of Ukrainian immigration.