Ukrainian Redress: ‘A dark chapter’ [Sudbury/Canada History] – by Jim Moodie (Sudbury Star – July 5, 2014)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

A shameful part of our history will be acknowledged this month when a plaque recognizing the internment of Ukrainians is installed at Hnatyshyn Park.

During the First World War, thousands of Ukrainians were imprisoned in labour camps across Canada — including ones in Kapuskasing and Petawawa — even though no disloyalty had been shown on their part.

“It was a dark chapter that no-one wants to talk about,” said Stacey Zembrzycki, a Sudbury native and historian at Concordia University. “We’re 100 years later and a large segment of the population still doesn’t know it happened.”

Reticence extended to the Ukrainians themselves, as many of those who weren’t imprisoned were still deemed “enemy aliens” of Canada. It was a stamp they were eager to forget.

Zembrzycki interviewed 82 aging members of Sudbury’s Ukrainian community for a book she is releasing in September, and found very few would talk about this period. “For my great-grandfather’s generation, there was silence and shame associated with it,” she said. “And I think they felt it was better to not acknowledge their heritage or something like that could happen again.”

Eyed suspiciously by those in their adopted country and called “bohunks” behind their backs — or even to their faces — many Ukrainians kept a low profile and anglicized their last names.In later years the federal government remained mum on the injustice and much of the documentation disappeared.

“The story is incomplete because Archives Canada destroyed records of the internees,” said Zembrzycki. “Some scholars think they were trying to cover up a dark period.”

She is inclined to accept the less nefarious explanation that it was “more of a space issue and no-one was doing social history then,” but either way the destruction of files shows disrespect for the experience of the incarcerated Ukrainians and leaves a hole in the country’s belated attempt to understand the period.

Lydia Katulka, who is involved in the effort to create a Sudbury memorial, noted efforts have been taken to acknowledge the Japanese who were later interned and the First Nations people who were forced into residential schools, yet little has been done until recently to highlight the mistreatment of Ukrainians during World War I.

“It was erased from our national history,” she said.

Far from representing a threat to national security, many Ukrainians had come here precisely because they didn’t support the violence brewing in their homeland. “A lot were being forced to go into the Austrian army, and it’s not what they wanted to do,” she said.

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