To honour the Ukrainian prisoners of war kept in 24 camps across the country during the First World War — including one in Brandon — 100 plaques will be unveiled from coast to coast next month.
On Aug. 22, the anniversary of the passage of the War Measures Act and the first national internment, the plaques will be presented in locations from Amherst, N.S., to Nanaimo, B.C., at 11 a.m. local time. Two of them will be here in Brandon — one will be given to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ghost and the other to the City of Brandon.
"Enemy aliens," as they were branded at the time, started being transported to Brandon when the Manitoba Winter Fair building on 10th Street was transformed into a POW camp on Nov. 17, 1914 and the arrival of the first prisoners, mostly Germans, was a badly kept secret.
Public opinion in the city about these prisoners was evident in a Brandon Daily Sun editorial on July 4, 1916.
"Men who were reckoned a public menace in time of war ought not to be trusted in time of peace," the editorial writer charged, "and ought not to have open to them all the careers and advantages that should be reserved for our own loyal and brave defenders."
The camp released the final prisoners on July 19, 1916, and the Daily Sun ran the story under the headline: "Prisoners Of War Enjoying Life."
The wartime imprisonment is still considered to be poorly documented, according to Lubomyr Luciuk, the man behind the CTO plaque project by the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association.
"This is not to take away from the honour we pay the men and women who served in (the army)," he said, "but it’s to remember a period of time of domestic and international crisis when thousands of innocent men, women and children were rounded up, not because they did anything wrong, but because of who they were."
Funded by the interest from an endowment fund, the "wave of plaque unveilings" will serve as a memory of the imprisonment.
"I do believe our Ukrainian community was crippled with what happened, but I don’t believe that today’s Canadians should be paying compensation for it," Luciuk said.
Several politicians from across the country were contacted late last year inviting them to apply to receive one of the plaques.
The symbolic gestures aren’t just for Ukrainian Canadians. Plaques are also being sent to German, Armenian, Hungarian, Croatian and Serbian communities across the country as well.
Of the 100 plaques, 19 will be unveiled in Manitoba.
Pastor Michael Skrumeda, of Brandon’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ghost, said the gesture is important to keep the memory of the imprisonments alive.
"These Ukrainians fled poor conditions to come to Canada only to face hardships and eventually internment," he said. "Many of the people involved, who were incarcerated didn’t want to speak about it.
"I think it is very important."
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