Wrzesnewskyj praises Kennedy’s position

For Immediate Release November 24, 2006

Wrzesnewskyj praises Kennedy’s position to apologize to Canadians for past discriminatory acts

Etobicoke – Liberal M.P. Borys Wrzesnewskyj praised Liberal Leadership Candidate Gerard Kennedy for his pledge earlier today that under his leadership the Liberal Party of Canada would extend an apology to Canadians who were affected by exclusionary immigration policies and by past wartime measures.

“In making this apology, we will emerge as a stronger nation, more complete and more worthy of emulation by the international community,” said Kennedy.

The apology would accompany the introduction of an Apology Act – legislation similar to that which has recently been implemented in the province of British Columbia that enables apologies to be issued by governments without fear of being mired in liability issues. Under Kennedy, the Federal Government would work with affected communities to recommend suitable community educational and commemorative projects.

Joining Kennedy for his announcement were Liberal MP’s the Honourable Raymond Chan, the Honourable Navdeep Bains and Borys Wrzesnewskyj. Following the announcement Wrzesnewskyj underscored the importance of providing closure to the affected families and communities, including the Ukrainian Canadian community:

“The Ukrainian Canadian community was the victim of Canada’s first national internment operations. From 1914 to 1920 over 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians were interned and forced into hard labour. The example of Ukrainians from the St Michael the Archangel Parish in Montreal is gut wrenching. Members of this parish were herded up and transported by box car north to Spirit Lake. There they were forced into labour for the profit of their gaolers on the grounds of a large experimental farm. Sadly, due to the conditions in the internment camp, many died and were buried in the adjacent forest. Today, the site of this graveyard – this consecrated land – has been ‘desecrated through ambivalence’ with only two crosses still standing. It is a poignant example of the separation, humiliation, suffering, and finally desecrating neglect of their final resting place that has befallen Ukrainian Canadians who suffered unjustly under Canada’s internment policies. It sadly demonstrates what happens when we don’t properly acknowledge, commemorate and educate Canadians on the dark episodes in our past. Through this announcement Gerrard Kennedy has shown he understands the at times difficult episodes of our collective history and respects the contributions our multicultural communities have made for Canada.”

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Spirit Lake Internment site

For Immediate Release (Ottawa, 17 November 2006)

    A small Ukrainian Catholic cemetery located near La Ferme, Quebec, site of the Spirit Lake internment camp from 13 January 1915 to 28 January 1917, is in danger of disappearing entirely unless the federal government takes immediate steps to protect and restore what many Ukrainian Canadians regard as a sacred place, worthy of designation as a national historic site.

    During a one-day symposium organized by the Spirit Lake Camp Corporation, on Wednesday, representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian community – Andrew Hladyshevsky, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, and Dr Lubomyr Luciuk, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association – visited the cemetery, located in the adjacent boreal forest, at some distance from the main internment camp site.

    Commenting, Dr Luciuk said:  ” In 1999, many of the internee crosses were still standing, and, while obviously neglected, this cemetery was surrounded by a small picket fence and marked with a wooden sign describing it as the final resting place of some of the men, and possibly children,  held here during Canada’s first national internment operations. Most were Ukrainians who had been herded up from the St Michael the Archangel Parish in Montreal, then transported north by box car, here forced to labour for the profit of their gaolers on the grounds of a large experimental farm. Today only two crosses still stand, the picket fence is down, the site is almost lost in the bush, and with it the memory of what happened here. While we endorse the work that the Spirit Lake Camp Corporation has been doing to establish an interpretive centre where the camp once stood, we are alarmed at the lack of any care being shown for the cemetery. For years now we have been asking Ottawa to step in and protect the site. They have ignored our requests. We would do this ourselves if we had the resources but, unfortunately, despite all the promises made to us over a year ago not a penny of the pledged funding has been received to date. We have today written to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Bev Oda, asking her to immediately provide us with the resources we need to acquire, restore and protect in perpetuity this hallowed ground. Innocents are buried there, far from their families and the communities they once knew. They are the only Ukrainian Canadians left at La Ferme. That they lie here only because of their needless imprisonment as “enemy aliens.” Those who so branded them have a moral duty to make sure that their final resting place does not itself end up being buried by the bush, neglected, forgotten, and finally lost.”

For more information on UCCLA go to www.uccla.ca

Remembrance Day — in honour of Branch 360

I met many of them. Most were soldiers or air crew, others were with the navy or merchant marines. Some suffered wounds. All spoke, quietly, of those who did not come home.

They did not always get along after the war, or maybe even during it, yet they got a lot done. As one of them — Flight Lieutenant G R Bohdan Panchuk, OBE, wrote — they were the “heroes of their day.” They set up a Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association, in Manchester, later moving UCSA’s HQ to London, where they ran a club at 218 Sussex Gardens, a “home away from home” for the thousands of Ukrainian Canadians voluntarily serving overseas. That became the nucleus around which a postwar British Ukrainian community formed. It was also where the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau took root, helping Displaced Persons — my own parents amongst them — find asylum, rather than being tossed back into the maws of their Communist foes.

These warriors wanted to perpetuate the fellowship they knew overseas. They were young then – idealistic, able, and willing — and their simple gospel, as Panchuk recorded it in his diary, was “Do something!” They knew interwar Ukrainian Canadian society had been rent between competing religious and political factions. They wanted none of that. These veterans hoped the comradely sentiment —  “we’re all in this together” — could be replanted and nurtured “back home.”

At first, they weren’t sure whether it would be better to maintain what they had known, UCSA, or instead join The Royal Canadian Legion. Many recalled encountering prejudice when enlisting, how others mocked them for having “unpronounceable names,” (I can empathize!). But, having proven their loyalty and mettle in battle, they insisted that never again would they accept being dealt with as anything other than the equals of all other veterans, of all other Canadians. So a majority opted for the Legion. They set up Branch #360, in Toronto, on Queen Street West, not then the trendy downtown neighbourhood it is now. They named their post after a First World War hero, Corporal Filip Konowal, whose valour at the Battle of Hill 70, near Lens, France, earned him a Victoria Cross. They would erect trilingual historical plaques honouring him across Canada, then in his home village in Ukraine, and, finally, in France. And thanks to Branch #360’s members Konowal’s long-missing Victoria Cross was recovered. It is now on permanent display in the Canadian War Museum.

When they bought a building they were also prescient. A time would come, they knew, when their ranks would thin, when they would falter, when what they would sow would have to be reaped. So the founders laid plans. They crafted a trust document stipulating that what wealth remained after their passing be dedicated for research, commemorative and educational projects within the Ukrainian Canadian community. They trusted the Legion to honour this testament.

Most of Branch #360’s founders are gone now. The members left were not prepared for the gaggle of Legion bureaucrats who swooped down upon CLUB 360 รป Canadian Legion Ukrainian Branch — in June 2005, alleging violations of their charter, padlocking the premises, perhaps hoping to so secure for the Legion’s benefit a building whose location alone makes it a multimillion dollar asset. And so a Ukrainian Canadian community centre that veterans bought, and improved over decades, has stood empty for more than a year. Branch #360’s members still meet, sadly elsewhere. Meanwhile, the memory of all the good Legion work they did fades away, even as they do.

Most other veterans do not know what happened. Legion Magazine has not published a word about Branch #360’s forced liquidation. Have other branches suffered a similar fate? Would other veterans approve of how Branch #360 was treated if they knew? At least the Legion will not soon, if ever, be enriched, for Branch #360’s case is now before the courts. Veterans suing the Legion is how this story will end, no matter the outcome. I doubt that is what anyone fought for.

I have chaffed at the boors who do not stop on Remembrance Day to hallow the fallen. At Vimy Ridge, and elsewhere, I have paused to pray for those who sacrificed their futures for ours. For as long as I can remember I have bought and worn a poppy. And this year you will find me, as always, standing in silence with all who respectfully mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the Great War ended. But if I am wearing a poppy it will only be if I find one that has fallen off someone else’s lapel. I will not put a penny into the coffers of the Legion, for it has broken faith with those who died.

Professor Lubomyr Luciuk remains a member of Branch #360.