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Reasons for WW I internment

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to determine the reasons for the internment of Ukrainians during World War I after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including government documents, police reports, newspaper articles, editorials and speeches.

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Primary sources

1. The War Measures Act |

2. Report on Iwan Milan |

3. Arrest records |

4. Internment camp formed |

5. Editorial in the Kanadyiskyi Rusyn (Canadian Ruthenian) |

6. Arrest of Ukrainian socialists |

7. Enemy aliens |

8. Nationality and loyalty |

9. Final report on internment operations |

10. Speech to Parliament |


Secondary sources

1. Motivations and justifications for internment |

2. Economic misfortune |

3. Divided loyalties |

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Student tasks

Question: What were the most important factors that contributed to the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians during World War I?

When determining the real reasons for the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians, you may want to consider the following aspects:

  • economic factors
  • conditions at the start of World War I
  • attitudes towards Ukrainian immigrants in Canada
  • fear of new political ideas, such as communism and socialism.

Teacher notes

The following notes are intended to:

  • help teachers guide student interpretation of the sources included in the set of History Docs
  • provide teachers with historical background information on the topic.

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Historical context for teachers

Ukrainians in Canada before WW I

  • Approximately 171 000 Ukrainian immigrants came to Canada between 1892 and 1914, the majority of which came from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovina in western Ukraine that were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They settled primarily in areas that resembled the climate and terrain of western Ukraine: the aspen parkland regions that stretched from southern Manitoba to the Peace River area of northern Alberta. Ukrainian immigrants often wanted to settle near other Ukrainians to maintain their language, customs and religious traditions.
  • Of the thousands of immigrants, many were young men looking for temporary work before returning to their homeland. As a result, many of those young men chose not to obtain Canadian citizenship, instead opting to remain Austrian citizens.
  • When the British Empire, alongside Russia and France, declared war against the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, Canada was automatically at war. The Canadian government was greatly worried about the hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in Canada, who were citizens of such enemy nations as Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey, greatly worried the Canadian government. Were these immigrants more loyal to their home country than Canada? Would these immigrants act as spies or saboteurs? Would these immigrants try to return home to fight for their home countries against Canada?

Ukrainian rights restricted

  • The Government of Canada issued an order-in-council providing for the registration and, in certain cases, the imprisonment of aliens of “enemy nationality.” An estimated
    120 000 people living in Canada were designated as “enemy aliens” (citizens of a country at war with the land in which he or she is living).
  • From August 4, 1914, to February 24, 1920, 80 000 individuals, the majority Ukrainian, were forced to report regularly to special registrars or to local or North West Mounted Police forces. They were issued identity papers that had to be carried at all times, and those failing to do so could be subjected to arrest, fines or even imprisonment.
  • All enemy aliens who lived within 20 miles of a registration office were required to register, while those who lived far away from major urban centres were not required to report as frequently.
  • Restrictions were also imposed on freedom of speech, association and movement of enemy aliens. Municipalities were told to watch all Germans and Austrians living within their areas, and all enemy aliens were prevented from leaving the country. Out of patriotic zeal, many employers also dismissed Austrians and Germans from their jobs.

Internment begins

  • In total, 8579 enemy aliens (including 81 women and 156 children) were interned in 24 internment camps across Canada. The internment camps housed 5954 Austro-Hungarians (believed to be mostly Ukrainians), 2009 Germans, 205 Turks and 99 Bulgarians.
  • No Ukrainians with Russian citizenship were interned. Only 3138 of the 8579 internees were considered legitimate prisoners of war (individuals captured under arms, or members of the enemy army reserve required to serve in the armed forces for their home country). The others were civilians.
  • Throughout the war years, numerous letters, petitions and memoranda were addressed to the federal and provincial authorities by Ukrainian-Canadian organizations, asserting that the Ukrainian-Canadians were loyal to the Dominion of Canada and the British Empire, not Austria-Hungary.
  • Although many camps closed from 1916 to 1918, 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.