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Campaign revived to designate Quebec wartime cemetery a historic site

A cross marks a grave at an internment camp for those of “enemy nationality” at Spirit Lake in Quebec

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special

  • February 19, 2016

MONTREAL – A century ago, more than a thousand innocent men and boys were arrested during the First World War and shipped to an internment camp at Spirit Lake in the Abitibi region of Quebec, 600 km northwest of Montreal.

Many of them died in that wilderness outpost and at least 16 are buried in what today is an overgrown cemetery that should never be forgotten, says the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“At the very minimum this sacred space should be reconsecrated, repaired and restored,” said UCCLA chairman Roman Zakalunzny. “That would allow the descendants of those internees to hallow the memory of those who died at Spirit Lake.

“People were held behind barbed wire not because of any wrong they had done, but because of their ethnic origins, of who they were and where they had come from.”

Zakalunzny’s organization is leading a campaign to have the abandoned, century-old Ukrainian Catholic cemetery reconsecrated and declared a national historic site.

Most of the men and boys, all of Eastern European ancestry, who are buried in the graveyard died of tuberculosis. One of them was shot and killed trying to escape.

The internees were being held under the War Measures Act after being declared a risk to public security during the First World War.

The majority had been parishioners at St. Michael The Archangel Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Church in Montreal. They were among the 8,579 innocent men, women and children arrested during the war because the government classified them as “an enemy nationality.” Held in 24 detention camps across the country, most were put to work at hard labour.

The Spirit Lake camp, which held 1,200 male internees, was the second largest internment camp in Canada. Women and children were interred at nearby Lilienville.

When the war ended the camps closed and the cemetery was largely forgotten.

The federal government sold the property to Quebec in 1936. After the province sold the land to a farmer in 1988, the cemetery in the wilderness fell into ruin. Little evidence of the graveyard or of the large cast-iron or wooden crosses which once marked its graves remains.

After years of lobbying by the UCCLA, the Liberal government of Paul Martin promised more than a decade ago to redress the injustice.

A statue of “The interned Madonna” was dedicated near Lilienville in 2001. Five years ago a $1.2-million interpretive centre commemorating the Spirit Lake camp opened in an old church at Trecession, Que.

The cemetery, however, is on private property beside the interpretive centre. It is almost inaccessible and relations between the farmer landowner and the corporation which runs the interpretive centre are strained.

James Slobodian, head of the foundation that runs the interpretive centre, says its board of directors and a special committee “are in the midst of crucial negotiations with the various parties involved in order to arrive at a positive outcome.”

The UCCLA wants Liberal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly to declare the cemetery a national historic site.

“We have been pleading for intervention for years,” said Royal Military College political geography professor Lubomyr Luciuk, a member of the UCCLA.

“We are very frustrated that nothing has happened. Somebody has dropped the ball.”

That said, Luciuk is not looking to put the blame on anyone for the lack of progress in restoring the cemetery.

“We don’t want to get involved in finger pointing at anyone. Our only interest is to protect the cemetery, put the fence and grave markers back up, and have it blessed and see if the farmer who owns the land will allow limited access.”

Petitions have been sent to all members of Parliament and senators. As well, Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Helene David has been asked to protect the graveyard under the province’s Cultural Property Act.

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)

Canada’s World War I internment operations remembered with historical marker in Kyiv

By George W. Foty, Ukrainian Weekly

Patriarch Sviatoslav blesses a plaque in Kyiv, at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, that recalls Canada’s national internment operations of 1914-1920.

KYIV – The first-ever bilingual historical marker recalling Canada’s national internment operations of 1914-1920 was unveiled at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on October 28 and blessed by Patriarch Sviatoslav.

On a previous visit to Canada, Patriarch Sviatoslav agreed it would be appropriate to display a commemorative plaque in Ukraine, and specifically in a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), as most of those interned during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 were of that faith.

Thus, on October 28 – marked by the Ukrainian community in Canada as the official day of recognition of these internment events – the UGCC primate presided over a memorial service (panakhyda) and the consecration of such a plaque in the great cathedral. Also present were Bishop Joseph Milian of Kyiv, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Washchuk, and clergy and faithful of the UGCC from Ukraine and Canada.

The patriarch addressed the audience saying: “The Patriarchal Cathedral is the core of our Church and of the Ukrainian people. To this cathedral flow both the joy and the pain of the Ukrainians in Ukraine and throughout the world. Today we blessed a plaque that commemorates the thousands of Ukrainians interned in Canada at the beginning of the first world war. They were suddenly viewed as enemies of the state.”

Patriarch Sviatoslav continued by noting that a few years ago, while visiting Alberta, he had the opportunity to visit one of the concentration camps in which, to this day, some of the camp’s barbed wire remains in its original position. He said it was enlightening to see how the internees in these extreme conditions professed their faith: “A picture in this memorial complex captured the punishment of an internee refusing to work on Christmas day (January 7)… Today we aspire that this suffering of our Ukrainian community in Canada be known around the world … The installation of these memorial plaques on the centenary of this unfortunate event has taken place in all our cathedrals of Canada, in Europe and Ukraine. It is important that we as Ukrainians preserve our historical memory … “

The patriarch expressed gratitude to Ambassador Washchuk, as well as to the government of Canada for its sensitivity and support not only for Ukrainians in Canada, but for Ukraine itself. Patriarch Sviatoslav said that all countries should follow Canada’s example in respecting the dignity of individuals and be responsive to the will of their citizens.

Ambassador Washchuk stated: “I am very grateful that the Patriarchal Cathedral agreed to commemorate this painful but important moment in Canadian and Ukrainian history. We cannot forget those who suffered, nor the errors committed a hundred years ago… These mistakes can be learned from, and adapted to the events in present-day Ukraine. We need to ensure the rights of all Ukrainian citizens, even in times of armed conflict… We should unite, and not allow ourselves to be divided. …These lessons help pave a path to a better future.”

Present from Canada, along with the ambassador, were Dr. Lada Roslytsky, Bohdan Kupych and this writer.

These memorial plaques are sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation with assistance from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

From Canada, Prof. Lubomyr Luciuk added: “We attempted to have a second plaque installed by the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As yet we are unable to confirm this arrangement… We still hope to have a plaque placed at St George Cathedral in Lviv and perhaps somewhere in Bukovyna, where internees of the Ukrainian Orthodox faith originated.”

After the consecration, all present prayed for the eternal rest of Ukrainians who died or suffered a hundred years ago behind Canadian barbed wire. The faithful departed, chanting “Vichnaya pamiat” (Memory eternal).

Translated from Ukrainian and edited from an original press release from the Kyiv Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.




Plaque unveiling in Kyiv

The first-ever bilingual historical marker recalling Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 was unveiled at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (vul. Mykilsko Slobidska 5) on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 at 11 am (local time) with his Beatitude, Sviatoslav, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Photos courtesy Ambassador Washchuk and Twitter.

UCCLF: Canada’s First World War Internment Operations Remembered in Ukraine


For Immediate Release – 27 October 2015

The first-ever bilingual historical marker recalling Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 will be unveiled at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (vul. Mykilsko Slobidska 5) on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 at 11 am (local time). It is expected that His Beatitude, Sviatoslav, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, will be participating in this event, organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation with the assistance of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

Commenting, UCCLF’s chairman, Andrew Harasymiw, said:

“We are very pleased to have the people of Ukraine join us in remembering this episode in Ukrainian Canadian history, when thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans were needlessly imprisoned, forced to do heavy labour for the profit of the jailers, disenfranchised, and subjected to other state censures, not because of any wrong they had done but only because of where they had come from, who they were. When His Beatitude visited Canada a few years ago, he paid a special visit to the internment campsites in Banff National Park, demonstrating his personal interest in hallowing the memory of all of the internees. With his co-operation we are now unveiling a marker in Ukraine’s capital city, recalling what was once an almost forgotten story both in Canada and in Ukraine.”

– 30 –

For media coverage please contact Rev. Ihor Yaciv, head of press office, (mobile – 00380506648184),

For organizational issues please contact Rev. Nikanor Loik (00380974428874)

For more information on UCCLF, please visit

Victims of Internment Camps honoured

Darren Handschuh  Oct 25, 2015 / 4:17 pm | S

A dark part of Vernon’s history will be remembered half a world away this week.

On Wednesday, a bilingual (Ukrainian/English) plaque will be unveiled in Kyiv at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrected Christ, recalling Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920.

During the Great War, thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans were imprisoned as “enemy aliens,” not because of any wrong they had done but only because of who they were, where they had come from.

In 2008, after years of community effort spearheaded by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association the Government of Canada provided support for the creation of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund tasked with developing commemorative and educational projects recalling this little-known episode in Canadian history.

An interment camp was opened in Vernon in September, 1914 to house the so called enemy aliens. The camp, located in what is now MacDonald Park next to WL Seaton Secondary School, housed hundreds of people.

Eleven men died while at the camp.

The Vernon camp was one of 24 across the nation that confined thousands of people between 1914 and 1920.

This is what happened to our people

‘This is what happened to our people’


Stella Kosick Sloan, holding a book written by her sister, wants to spread word about the little-known internment of thousands of Ukrainians in Canada during the First World War. - Boaz Joseph / The Leader

Stella Kosick Sloan, holding a book written by her sister, wants to spread word about the little-known internment of thousands of Ukrainians in Canada during the First World War.

— image credit: Boaz Joseph / The Leader

One event in this story took place aboard a train a year after the war started.

A 23-year-old man was being secreted away for work. His people were being persecuted, and he had to keep his head down.

If the authorities about to board his train at a station found him and saw his identification papers, he would certainly be taken to what was already being called a concentration camp.

His travel mates, who had proper documents, saw what was about to happen.

Quickly, they threw a pile of clothing and baggage on top of him, saving him from captivity behind barbed wire.

He would have one other close call during the war, but managed to evade capture.

This didn’t happen in Europe and it wasn’t the Second World War.

It was in Edmonton in 1915, on a train from Saskatchewan that was headed for the Peace River Region.

The 23-year-old was Fred Kosyk (born in 1892), who was to become Fred Kocuk, and then finally Kosick – such was the fate of a man always on the move to avoid the internment that thousands of Ukrainians experienced in Canada during the First World War.

Photo: Fred Kosick with his wife Katherine in a photo taken between 1920 and 1939.

Kosick immigrated in 1910, during the second decade of federally planned Ukrainian immigration.

For several years, Canadian officials, running short of English-speaking immigrants interested in living in the Prairies, lured Ukrainians with promises of free land, gold-lined streets and an escape from the oppression they experienced by authorities at home in Central and Eastern Europe.

Instead, they found themselves pioneers breaking a harsh land under a callous bureaucracy.

Years later, out of economic necessity, many would become migratory workers rather than farmers.

Ukrainians were described by Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton (1895-1905) as “stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats” – not a term of endearment – who were sturdy enough for the dangerous and backbreaking pioneering that was necessary in places such as Mayfair, Saskatchewan, about 140 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, where Kosick first began to build a homestead.

Four years later, married to Katherine Hancheryk and with his first kids, he was on the run, as Canada joined Great Britain in The Great War against the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary.

Under the War Measures Act, 80,000 Ukrainians (sometimes known as Galecians, Ruthenians, Bukovynians and Russians) in Canada were deemed enemy aliens; they were registered, closely monitored, and at a minimum, ordered to report to local officials on a regular basis.

They were under suspicion because being from Ruthenia or Bukovyna meant holding an Austrian passport, and Austria was at war against Russia, Britain’s ally.

At the time, Ukraine was not independent, and its people were spread out along the border of Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which included parts of present-day Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Romania and the former Yugoslavia.

To Canadian officials, one “sheepskin coat” was another.

Some didn’t realize that their lack of English skills landed them in trouble by confusing “proty” (“against” in Ukrainian) with the English word “pro” when asked if they were pro-German.

An estimated 8,500 citizens of Austria-Hungary, including about 5,000 Ukrainians, were interned in 24 camps throughout Canada, including eight in British Columbia: Nanaimo, Revelstoke, Fernie/Morrissey, Field, Edgewood, Monashee, Mara Lake and the largest, Vernon.

Whereas Germans were deemed more of a threat and held in urban areas where they could be watched more diligently, Ukrainians considered a high risk (about one in 10, including some women and children) were sent to remote areas, made to build their own fencing and lodging, and then work in lumber camps and coal mines and forced to clear land and build railroads.

Working in primitive conditions, they were paid 25 cents per day (a dollar less than soldiers) and worked six days a week. They were sometimes mistreated by guards.

Banff, AB, with many of its tourist spots (including the Banff Springs Hotel) built by Ukrainian hands in almost slave-like conditions, was among the worst places of abuse.

The internment camps in Vernon, and Kapuskasing, in Northern Ontario, were not closed until 1920, about 16 months after the war ended.

After the war, much of the property that was taken by the Canadian government was not returned and many documents were destroyed in the years to follow.

According to the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association, PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that confiscated possessions, auctioned off by the Canadian government at the end of the First World War, would now be worth $33-35 million.

Fred Kosick never got his land back, and his daughter, 77-year-old daughter Stella Kosick Sloan, who lives in Surrey, still has questions about what happened and hasn’t found many records of his property.

She knows that he managed to avoid internment during the war, but not much more than the generalities – and stories pieced together by her sister Mary Kosick Goodwin, who wrote a book about the subject.

(Mary Kosick Goodwin, 92 and living in Nanaimo, was unavailable for an interview for this story).

Photo: The family gathers for the Kosicks’ 60th anniversary in 1975. Fred and Katherine are in the front row, third and fourth from left.

Fred, who died in 1977, never spoke to his family about his past.

“It was a closed chapter of a book to him,” says Stella.

Her memories of growing up involved regular family life – with nine siblings – in Saskatchewan in the 1930s and ’40s: The local churches, the singing, the dancing, the plays, the walks of two to five miles to school in 30-40 below-zero temperatures.

Her family has photos going back decades posted at

Today, few Canadians are aware of the internment – which happened more than two decades before the more famous incarceration of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

“There’s a whole layer of hidden stories – attic memories of Ukrainians, and other Canadians who suffered the indignity of being called enemy aliens,” says Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont.

“It’s a pretty traumatic experience to be interned or branded… it raises questions about citizenship, loyalty and identity.”

Many of the victims’ family members – and a handful of survivors – have told him over they years how Ukrainians in Canada at the time were abused, shaken down for money and forced to report to authorities at regular intervals.

Luciuk, who led a campaign for the federal government to acknowledge its past starting in the mid-1980s, says there was no formal redress until 2008, when the Harper government set up a $10-million Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund to support projects commemorating the experience of the thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans interned between 1914 and 1920, and others who suffered a suspension of their civil liberties.

Even during his redress and public education campaign, some Ukrainians told Luciuk that he might stir up trouble by bringing up the subject – so long-lasting was their embarrassment and fear.

But it’s a story – a history – which Stella Kosick continues to investigate and to share with others.

“This is what happened to our people,” she says. “It’s been a hundred years.”

Remembering Mary Manko Haskett, last surviving internee

From our archives:

"The death of Mary Manko: Righting a historical injustice," by Lubomyr Luciuk, 1
August 2007, The Kingston Whig-Standard

We buried her under a maple. Seeing Mary’s grave sheltered by a tree whose
leaf symbolizes our country was comforting. Nearby stands a spruce. That
evergreen would have reminded her of the boreal forest she knew as a young
girl. Even though she was born in Montreal, Mary was branded an “enemy
alien” and transported north to the Spirit Lake concentration camp, along
with the rest of the Manko family. Thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans
like them were jailed, not because of anything they had done, but only because
of where they had come from, who they were. What little wealth they had was
taken, and they were forced to do hard labour for the profit of their jailers. 
The Mankos lost something even more precious, their youngest daughter, Nellie,
who died there. 

Mary Manko Haskett passed away 14 July, the last known survivor of Canada’s
first national internment operations. She was 98. For years she lent her
support to the Ukrainian Canadian community’s campaign to secure a timely and
honourable redress settlement. Disappointingly, she did not live to see that
happen, despite the Honourable Stephen Harper’s own words. On 24 March 2005
he rose in the House of Commons to support fellow Conservative Inky Mark’s
Bill C 331 – The Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act, saying: “Mary Haskett,
is still alive…. I sincerely hope that she will live to see an official
reconciliation of this past injustice.” The Prime Minister might now ask the
bureaucracy why his wish was ignored. 

The government did, at least, send a representative to Mary’s funeral,
Conservative MP Mike Wallace, (Burlington) who read a prepared statement,
subsequently added to the website of the Secretary of State for
Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney: “ We were saddened to hear of the death of
Mrs. Mary Manko Haskett, the last known survivor of Canadian internment camps
during the First World War and the postwar period. On behalf of Canada's New
Government, I would like to extend my condolences to Mrs. Haskett's family, as
well as the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Born and raised in Montreal, Mary was
six years old when she and her family were detained in the Spirit Lake
internment camp. Despite advice from British officials that ‘friendly
aliens’ should not be interned, Ottawa invoked The War Measures Act to detain
8,579 ‘enemy aliens’ including Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croats, Turks,
Serbs, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, and Romanians - but the majority (perhaps as
many as 5,000) were of Ukrainian origin. Many were unwilling subjects of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus not ‘enemy aliens’ at all. For years. Mrs
Haskett and others argued that ‘Canada's first internment operations’
herded together individuals based on nationality - many of them Canadian-born -
and compelled them into forced labour. Despite the original wartime
justification for these measures, many were kept in custody for two years after
the Armistice of 1918. We are all grateful for Mrs. Manko Haskett's dedication
to the cause of remembering and commemorating this important event in Canada's

Official condolences for those recently deceased, for example Bluma Appel and Ed
Mirvish, can be found on the Canadian Heritage website. The innocuous text cited
above wasn’t included, however, being deemed “too political.” And so yet
another indignity was heaped upon Mary, posthumously. Remembering her means
recalling what was done to her and by whom. That’s a no-no. While this gaffe
may be corrected, even if Mary wasn’t rich or a patron of the arts, it’s
too late. We got the message. 

Years ago Mary provided a prescription for the redress campaign. She insisted we
should never demand an apology, or compensation for survivors, or their
descendants. Instead we should ask, politely, for recognition and the
restitution of what was taken under duress. Those funds, to be held in a
community-based endowment, would underwrite commemorative and educational
projects that, hopefully, will ensure no other ethnic, religious or racial
minority suffers as Ukrainian Canadians once did. 

While no survivors remain, and even their descendants are senior citizens, a new
generation of Canadians of Ukrainian heritage took up Mary’s cause nearly two
decades ago, even though none of us had any ties to the victims. That changed
on the day of Mary’s funeral, when my mother and sister returned from western
Ukraine. They knew about Mary but, being away, did not know she had died. They
brought the news that my cousin, Lesia, had married Ivan Manko, himself
distantly related to Mary’s parents, Katherine and Andrew, whose graves are
found in Mississsauga’s St. Christopher’s Catholic cemetery, not far from
Mary’s mound. 

This crusade was always about righting an historical injustice and, in that
sense, is political. It just got personal too. 
Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk is director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil
Liberties Association (