For Immediate Release (Ottawa – 19 December 2006)

    A trilingual bronze plaque honouring the First World War Ukrainian Canadian hero, Corporal Filip Konowal, VC, has been stolen from the facade of Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion, 326 Queen Street West, in Toronto. The Branch, popularly known as “CLUB 360”  [Canadian Legion Ukrainian Branch] was particularly active in recalling the valour of this Canadian veteran, installing similar historical markers in places across Canada associated with Cpl Konowal’s life, including Richmond, British Columbia (The Royal Westminster Regiment), Ottawa (The Governor General’s Foot Guards), and on their own building, in Toronto, in 1996. Plaques were also unveiled in Kudkivtsi, Ukraine (Konowal’s home village), in 2000, and near the site of the Battle for Hill 70, Lens, France (2005). A trilingual booklet detailing Konowal’s life was published by the Branch and distributed widely across Canada to public libraries, schools and universities. Members of the group were likewise instrumental in rescuing Konowal’s VC, which now stands permanently on display in the new Canadian War Museum.

    Commenting on the theft, Branch #360’s president, John B Gregorovich, said:

    ” Our building was seized, without just cause, by the Ontario Provincial Command, with the sanction of Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion, in June 2005. While this matter has yet to be resolved by the courts, the fact is that our property is currently in the charge of Ontario Provincial Command. Their stewardship leaves much to be desired, for, on their watch, a valuable bronze plaque honouring a Canadian soldier has been stolen. When our Branch was active that plaque was safe and sound. It was only after Ontario Command padlocked our premises and expelled us from our Branch, over the protests of our members, that this outrage took place. We have called upon the Ontario and Dominion Commands to file a police report about this theft and to contact their insurance providers to arrange for an exact replica of the Konowal plaque to be made and reinstalled. We expended considerable time and resources in doing the good Legion work of honouring Filip Konowal, one of our Great War veterans, and now that effort is being undone because of the actions of Ontario and Dominion Commands. They have a moral and legal duty to redress this situation. We are also asking anyone who has any information about the theft of this plaque to come forward and help us recover it. It is a sad day indeed when memorials to Canadian heroes become prey to petty thieves.”

Kobzar’s Children and Saskatoon!

I flew in to Saskatoon on November 24th for a book event for Kobzar’s Children that evening at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. This was an amazing visit for so many reasons. The Ukrainian Museum of Canada is a phenomenal place. There are so many unique Canadian and Ukrainian artifacts that I could spend days there.

The museum also owns a large collection of William Kurelek original paintings and the Kobzar book event was held in the William Kurelek room. I had never seen a Kurelek up close and I was mesmerized by the minute detail. One could see the texture of every blade of grass and each wrinkle on every face. I could spend days in that room alone! William Kurelek grew up just miles from my father’s childhood home and many of his paintings remind me of my father’s stories about his childhood.

Added to this excitement was the fact that several of the anthology contributors were able to participate in the book event. Danny Evanishen came in from BC because the museum was holding a Christmas Yarmarok the same weekend. Danny has a number of Ukrainian folk tale collections through his own Ethnic Enterprises company. And his wife Jean makes beautiful Trypillian style pottery.

I had the opportunity to meet Larry Warwaruk for the first time at this event and was able to catch up with Linda Mikolayenko, who braved through a snow storm to get to Saskatoon.

Each contributor did a brief reading and gave some anecdotes about writing. Larry told a hilarious story about his first book launch. Linda was in her expressive storytelling mode and Danny was, well, Danny!

 The room was packed to capacity. There were even people listening in from the hallway. The museum sold out of all the hardcovers of Kobzar’s Children and most of the softcovers.

The royalties for Kobzar’s Children are donated to UCCLA.

Here’s a photo of the contributors who participated. From left to right, Danny, Linda, Larry and me:

CNE — Internment plaque in disrepair

Canadian National Exhibition
Press Building
210 Princes’ Boulevard
Exhibition Place
Toronto, ON M6K 3C3

Phone: 416-263-3800
Fax: 416-263-3838



3 December 2006

Dear CNE Administration:

I happened to drive through the CNE grounds on Friday, 1 December 2006, and was dismayed to see that the pole mounted plaque, recalling the use of Stanley Barracks as an internment camp/receiving station in the First World War, is falling over. It is angled in such a way that it is not easy to read and is quite unappealing. I do not know whether this is the result of vandalism or an attempt to remove it, but my understanding is that the CNE is obliged to maintain it on site and in good condition. I hope you will send your repair crew out immediately to rectify this problem. As your records will no doubt confirm, the plaque was blessed by representatives of both the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches, in the presence of a number of dignitaries, including a descendent of one of the internees. It would be very disturbing if it were not maintained properly and with dignity.

Thank you for your anticipated action in rectifying this matter.

Yours truly,

L Y Luciuk, PhD, Director of Research
Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

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.”

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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 û 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.

Kobzar’s Children in the news

Kobzar’s Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories, is an anthology of short historical fiction, memoirs and poems spanning a century of Ukrainian immigration experience. It is edited by Marsha Skrypuch and all royalties are donated to UCCLA.

There was a lovely article in the Hamilton Spectator today, focussing on the real person behind one of the stories, A Bar of Chocolate.

Click on this link to read the article.

Five plaques to go …

UCCLA Media release

UCCLA kicks off “Five plaques to go” drive

For immediate release – Quebec City (Oct. 1, 2006):

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association kicked off its “Five Plaques to Go” campaign Monday, urging Canadians to pitch in and help the association complete its most recent project.

The UCCLA wrapped up another successful annual conclave Oct. 1 in Quebec City, where the association placed the 18th and 19th of 24 memorials, commemorating internees who spent time at Valcartier and Beauport.

On hand to help mark the solemn occasions was 15-year-old Quebecker Kim Pawliw,who read aloud a poem she dedicated to her grandmother Stéphania Mielniczuk.

Mielniczuk, who died recently, was interned as a little girl at Spirit Lake, Que., near Val D’Or.

With these plaques solidly in concrete, five Canadian internment sites remain to be commemorated by the UCCLA: Montreal; Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; Edgewood, B.C.; Lethbridge, Alta.; and Halifax. The UCCLA urges Canadians to support the UCCLA’s “Five More to Go” campaign.

“Our goal is to have the 24 camps commemorated by 2010,” said the UCCLA’s chairman John Gregorovich. “This would be a remarkable legacy to the memory of the 8,579 men, women and children who were unjustly interned during this dark chapter in Canada’s past.

“We are a project-driven group,” he added. “Every dollar raised will go towards the purchase and installation of permanent bronze plaques for the five remaining internment camp locations.”

The UCCLA has placed plaques at 19 of Canada’s 24 First World War internment camp locations, from Valcartier to Nanaimo B.C. Evidence exists that the UCCLA’s bronze trilingual plaques and statues are achieving their intended purpose of educating Canadians.

Photographer Sandra Semchuk, who attended the two unveilings, said she learned of the internment operations by reading the UCCLA’s bronze marker in Banff National Park at the foot of Castle Mountain off Hwy 1A.

Since then, she has located and photographed every internment site and plaque. The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, the education arm of the UCCLA, gave Semchuk a grant to help finish her photography and publish a book on the topic.

Besides members of UCCLA from across Canada, more than 50 citizens attended the unveilings in Valcartier and Beauport, including Quebec City’s Michael Reshitnyk who acted as the master of ceremonies, Anne Sadelain of the Descendents of Ukrainian Canadian Internee Victims’ Association, Ukrainian Canadian residents of Montreal and the Quebec City area, youth groups Plast and SUM, representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Quebec chapter), President of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko Andrew Hladyshevsky and others.

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