The First Wave of Ukrainian Immigration took place between 1891 and 1914. At this time, approximately 170,000 Ukrainians were enticed by the prospect of creating a better life and obtaining free land in the Canadian prairies. Parts of Western Ukraine at the time were part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire and as a result many immigrants were labelled as “Austrian” or “Austro-Hungarian”.
In 1914 World War I broke out and Canada fought as part of the British Empire against Germany, Austria, and Turkey. The Canadian government enforced the federal War Measures Act, which allowed the government to control civil liberties of individuals who were from enemy nation states.
As such, approximately five thousand Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans were kept in concentration and internment camps across Canada and another eighty thousand, mostly women and children, were considered “enemy aliens” and reported to police regularly. Those in one of the twenty four camps across Canada were used for labour in harsh conditions. The reason for internment of Ukrainian civilians was because of wartime fears of enemy sabotage.
Furthermore, the outbreak of war created a sense of panic within the country that led to a negative public attitude and therefore increased the poverty and unemployment level among Ukrainian immigrants. After the war, some Ukrainians were deported, while others changed their names to avoid humiliation for having been interned. Ukrainian immigrants lost trust in the government after having their loyalty to Canada questioned. The image and pride of Ukrainians in Canada was negatively affected because of their internment. Going into World War II, a large number of Ukrainian Canadians volunteered for military to prove their loyalty to Canada.
In 2005, Bill C-331 (Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act), was passed by the Federal Government of Canada which acknowledged the internment. Educational projects are now implemented across the country primarily through the establishment of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. See www.internmentcanada.ca
Seventy years later Ukrainian Canadians received official acknowledgement for the moral, legal, and political wrongs of the internment.