On the grounds where Brandon’s internment camp stood now stands a small plaque to commemorate the so-called “enemy aliens” jailed during the First World War.
The plaque was unveiled yesterday outside the Brandon Police Service building on Victoria Avenue, where the former Provincial Exhibition building once stood.
The exhibition building-turned-jail held 800 to 900 people between 1914 and 1916, when it was shut down. Most prisoners were Ukrainians from Austria-Hungary.
“It’s history that shouldn’t go unnoticed,” said Rev. Michael Skrumeda of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Winnipeg, who was on hand for the unveiling. “It’s a privilege to stand in a place such as this.
“It was unfortunate they were incarcerated because of the passports they held.”
The city’s heritage committee chair, Coun. Cory Roberts (Rosser), Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire and members of the Brandon Police Service were among about 15 in attendance.
Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the War Measures Act.
Public opinion in the city about these prisoners at the time can be seen in a Brandon Daily Sun editorial from 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 read, “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.”
However, the wartime imprisonment is still considered to be poorly documented, many didn’t speak of it and bitterness remains.
“You can only look back on it with sadness,” said Borden Petrycia, a member of the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Brandon, tears welling up in his eyes.
“It breaks my heart.”
The plaques were provided by the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association and unveiled in locations from Amherst, N.S., to Nanaimo, B.C., at 11 a.m. local time. Two of them are in Brandon, one of which will be given to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ghost at a later date.
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 were scheduled to be unveiled in Manitoba.
This isn’t the first plaque in the city to acknowledge the internment of Ukrainians in Brandon. In 1997, the city unveiled a plaque on the grounds of city hall, dedicated to the memory of those held in the jail.
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