Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First World War Internment Camps a 'Difficult Scar' for Canadian Ukrainians

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First World War Internment Camps a 'Difficult Scar' for Canadian Ukrainians

Article excerpt

'Difficult scar for the Ukrainian community'

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CASTLE MOUNTAIN, Alta. - At the age of 22, Yuri Forchuck was a prisoner of war -- in Canada.

The young man immigrated in 1912 from the Ukraine and was homesteading east of Edmonton when, in 1916, the authorities came calling.

He was arrested, declared an "enemy alien" and shipped off to do hard labour in the Rockies.

"He was at the Jasper internment camp and he escaped," recounted his granddaughter Marsha Skrypuch, "The camp guards shot at him, bullets were whizzing by his ears, but he did manage to escape alive."

Forchuck was one of more than 8,000 individuals put into First World War internment camps across the country because they were considered citizens of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires as well as Germany.

He may have survived his escape, but nothing was ever the same.

"It completely ruined his life because he went into hiding because he had escaped and when he went back to his homestead after the war it had been given up," Skrypuch recalls. "It had been given to an English family so he had absolutely nothing."

Forchuck eventually moved to southern Alberta where he worked in the coal mines. He found himself another homestead but his arrest was something he never really recovered from.

"I was in elementary school when he died and I remember vividly him talking about it," Skrypuch recalled. "It tainted his entire life. He thought this was hanging over his head and thought his past would come up and be thrust in his face like a scandal.

"As a kid I knew that something had happened to him and it was a big secret that he was put in jail for something he didn't do."

The Canadian government identified about 80,000 people as enemy aliens during the First World War and those who were living close to urban centres were required to report to the North West Mounted Police.

Nearly 8,600 were deemed to be a threat to Canada and sent to 24 internment camps across the country, four of which were in the Canadian Rockies. The majority of the prisoners were of Ukrainian descent.

While most people are aware of the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War, the First World War camps are an often overlooked part of Canadian history.

The Harper government set up the $10 million Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund in 2008 to support projects commemorating the experience of the thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans interned between 1914-20 and the many others who suffered a suspension of their civil liberties.

A new exhibit on the history of First World War internments in Canada is being built adjacent to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff, Alta. It is scheduled to open next summer.

"It is a very unknown story in Canadian history," said Parks Canada national historic sites manager Steve Malins. …

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