Two original musical arrangements have captured the story of Spirit Lake internment, the second largest of the twenty-four internment sites in Canada, thereby furthering public awareness of the early-twentieth century Internment Operations in Canada through a unique medium.
The first musical piece is a composition titled “Spirit Lake” performed by members of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue Symphony Orchestra in Quebec, conducted by Jacques Marchand. The piece is played with historical archive photos of Spirit Lake internment site projected in the background. The 40 musicians in the orchestra come from the surrounding areas of La Sarre, Amos, Val d’Or, Rouyn-Noranda.
This composition will be performed for a second time this coming June by the Haricanna Harmony Orchestra of Polyvalente de la Forêt secondary school in Amos. This talented student orchestra also numbers forty musicians from the fourth and fifth secondary high-school levels. The orchestra frequently performs in Quebec provincial high school competitions in Montreal and Sherbrooke.
The second recent composition is an original song written, titled “L’évadé de Spirit Lake” (The Escapee of Spirit Lake), which will be released on June 7. The song, composed by Daniel Rose, pays tribute to young Ukrainian internee Ivan Hryhoryshchuk who tried to escape his unjust internment in Spirit Lake, but was tragically killed on June 7, 1915, as he was attempting to run south, down the railway tracks, hoping to reach freedom.
The Quebec song, written in French, was recorded in the Val d’Or studio. Daniel Rose is a known musician in the area, writing songs for various Quebec artists. His mother was one of the original founders of Corporation Camp Spirit Lake in early 1998, a non-profit entity. From her initiative, award-winning Camp Spirit Lake Interpretative Centre/museum, chaired by James Slobodian of today was established in year 2011.
Her son Daniel, having been exposed to and was intrigued by the internment story at an early age, felt compelled to write a song years later when he became a music composer. Daniel also sang the song “The Escapee of Spirit Lake” which will be release on CD in a few months. This is one of many ongoing projects underway by Spirit Lake Centre to mark the 100th anniversary of Sprit Lake internment site, which opened in 1915 and was closed in 1917, with internees from Spirit Lake being transferred to other existing internment sites in Canada.
Spirit Lake Interpretative Centre, the first internment museum opened for the public in Canada, conveys the story of Canada’s First National Interment Operations, is open throughout the year, with a well developed educational out-reach program with schools in the area and throughout Quebec.
They received a major grant, over a period of five years, from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund under the Shevchenko Foundation. Over 25,000 have visited this unique Centre, now in its sixth year of successful operation, from various parts of Canada and Europe.
Spirit Lake Centre is organizing a series of events throughout the year to mark the 100th anniversary of Spirit Lake and the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement to Canada. Support for their projects is always welcome.
To arrange for group tours please call 1-819-727 2267or for further information refer to www.campspiritlake.ca or to view documentaries on Spirit Lake see: www.yluhovy.com
The picket fence that segregated this hallowed ground from the surrounding boreal forest has collapsed. So have the wooden crosses that once marked their graves.
There are at least 16 bodies interred in a cemetery measuring only 35 by 25 metres. Most were men, a few were children. We know their names, thanks to the determined research of Vernon’s Lawrna Myers.
To protect what remains of their privacy, their surnames will not be repeated, save for one man’s — for his name was announced in newspapers published in those troubled times.
Six imprisoned infants perished of unknown causes between May 1915 and March 1916. Their names were Jeannette, Olga, Andrez, Jan and Carolka. Another boy, Iwan, died from an intestinal hemorrhage in December 1915.
Six men died between May 1915 and October 1916 — Pawlo, Aksenty, Geo, Wasyl, Stefan and Mike, taken by tuberculosis. Karol died in August 1915 from typhoid fever. Chronic nephritis killed Gregori in October 1916, and tubercular meningitis took Sotiri in January 1917.
Ivan Hryhoryschuk suffered a different fate. He was shot dead, on June 7, 1915, attempting to escape from the Spirit Lake internment camp. Ivan’s death warranted front-page coverage, for example, in the Manitoba Free Press of June 23, 1915. So the nation knew something about what was happening to those branded “enemy aliens” by the now-notorious War Measures Act. Most readers likely didn’t care.
Not all internees were recent immigrants. Some, like Carolka, were born in Montreal, making her a British subject. Her status did not matter. She became just another one of the victims of Canada’s first national internment operations, along with the rest of her family. His sister, Mary, one of the last survivors, explained why it was so important for Canadians to remember what happened in the First World War, reminding us it had happened again in the Second World War and yet again during the Quebecois Crisis in 1970. Standing on guard for civil liberties and human rights was particularly important, she counselled, in periods of domestic and international crisis. Perhaps if her little sister, Carolka, had not died at Spirit Lake, she, too ,would have been a mother, an aunt and a storyteller like Mary. She never got the chance.
At Spirit Lake (now La Ferme), in the Abitibi region of Quebec, the interned men were forced to work for the profit of their jailers and local businessmen, carving an experimental farm out of the woods, as other internees laboured likewise, to the west, at Kapuskasing. Many Spirit Lake prisoners had been residents of Montreal’s Pointe-St. Charles working class district, including parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Church. Additional internees were railroaded in from Petawawa, Beauport, Montreal, Kapuskasing, Toronto’s Stanley Barracks, Banff, and the Otter internment camp in British Columbia. At its maximum, the Spirit Lake population swelled to 1,312 internees, including some 60 families. Opened on Jan. 13, 1915, it was shut on Jan. 28, 1917 — Kapuskasing would not close its gates until Feb. 24, 1920, some 14 months after the end of the Great War.
When the American vice-consul, O. Gaylord Marsh, visited Spirit Lake in the autumn of 1915, the cemetery had a large cast-iron cross and several graves with cedar markers. By the time I first visited, in June 1999, one concrete and a few toppling wooden crosses were all that remained. By September 2008, most of those had fallen, so much so that even determining the locations of all 16 graves would have required concerted effort. This unique site is now in much, much worse condition, almost completely lost to the forest.
How did a Catholic cemetery established under federal authority fall into such disrepair? We know that in October 1918, soon after the military left, the Dominion Department of Agriculture assumed control over the property. Eventually, in May 1936, Ottawa let the province of Quebec have the land for a nominal sum. No one cared about the internee cemetery. The land was next sold to a farming couple in 1988. It’s now theirs. Whether they have ownership of the cemetery or of its skeletal occupants is another, more contentious, issue.
In the past few years, a permanent display about the Spirit Lake internment camp has been opened at La Ferme, largely thanks to the financial support of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. Even earlier, a commemorative plaque (1999) and then a statute, titled “Interned Madonna,” were unveiled (2001). Unfortunately, every attempt to secure limited rights of access to the internee cemetery for the purposes of restoring and reconsecrating it have failed. Local feuds had made certain of that.
On Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s website, Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly is described as “a lawyer by training (who) is passionate about her city of Montreal and the power of positive politics.” That’s encouraging. For only the intervention of another Montrealer will recover the memory of the innocents transported from her city into the wilderness, whose tombs will forever be lost if she does not act, and soon.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada. The “Appeal” to Minister Joly is found at www.uccla.ca.