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UCCLF unveils WWI internment monument at Alberta’s Legislature

For immediate release (Edmonton, October 2, 2023)

Canada’s newest educational and commemorative monument to the internment operations of 1914-1920 was unveiled Sunday, October 1, 2023 marking the country’s first use of the War Measures Act, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton.

Some 250 people marked the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation event, marking the occasion when the Act was first used, from 1914-1920. A darker chapter in Canadian history, the Act paved the way for operations which ensnared 8,000 Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans in a network of 24 camps coast to coast, and forced a further 80,000 to check in semi-regularly with police.

WWI Internment Monument "Endurance", Alberta Legislature Grounds, Edmonton

The internees, who had previously been invited to settle in Canada, had their rights stripped. They were forbidden to leave, labeled “enemy aliens,” arrested, and made to work on government and corporate construction projects. Those affected arrived to Canada or were born of those bearing Austro-Hungarian passports – Canada’s enemy at the time. The interned suffered not because of any crime committed, but because of where they had come from. Many remained “in fear of the barbed wire fence” for decades following parole.

“Alberta was the site of one fifth of Canada’s 24 camps – at Castle Mountain, Cave and Basin, Jasper, Lethbridge and Munson,” said UCCLF chairman Borys Sydoruk. “No region of Canada was without camps. But Alberta, after Manitoba, has become the second provincial capital to remember its internment scars with a memorial on legislature grounds,” (after Winnipeg).

Titled Endurance, the monument was designed and sculpted by St. Paul, Alta. artist Herman Poulin.

“Today, in 2023, more than ever, statues like the one unveiled today reverberate,” continued Sydoruk. “Not only will the memorial help visitors to and residents of Edmonton and Alberta learn about what happened during the First World War to minorities like the Ukrainians, it will also remind us what happens when civil liberties are forgotten, when irrational fear of the unknown is whipped up into populist hysteria. When that happens, we all lose.”

The affected communities included Ukrainians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Serbians, Slovaks, Slovenes and others. Most were civilians.

Guest speakers included: Oryssia Lennie, First Vice-President of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko; Liliya Sokha, Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Alberta Provincial Council Director; former Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Alberta, Hon. Tyler Shandro; and Hon. Jackie Armstong-Homeniuk, Alberta MLA and Parliamentary Secretary for Settlement Services and Ukrainian Evacuees.

“This memorial on these grounds is further testimony to the willingness of Canadians to recognize and learn from history while building a stronger Canada, forever committed to the fundamental rights and freedoms that we all hold dear,” said Lennie.

Despite the hardships they faced, the Ukrainian Canadians who were interned didn’t lose hope, said Sokha. “They continued to persevere, to contribute to their communities, and to build a better future for their families. Their resilience is a source of inspiration for all of us.

“Even today, while fighting against Russia, Ukrainians give the world a chance to see what Ukrainian bravery is,” she continued. “Ukrainians have become the bravest nation in the world. And in Canada, we commit ourselves to building a more inclusive and tolerant society that values diversity and embraces the contribution of all of its members.”

Shandro recounted the time it took to secure permissions required for Endurance to go up on the legislature grounds.

“For many years, monuments have been erected at the sites of the internment operations – which means a lot,” said Shandro who, when in government, helped move the project along. “But, I think, the Foundation realized that there’s so few Canadians who actually make their way to those locations. It was (therefore) also important for us to have a monument on the legislative grounds.”

“As a descendant myself of one of the first Ukrainian settlers to Alberta, it is particularly meaningful to me to be able to participate in today’s commemoration and to salute those who lost so much,” added Armstrong-Homeniuk. “Let us not forget Canadians of all backgrounds who sacrificed and allowed us to live freely as we do today. Vichnaya pamyat.”

Consecrating the interpretive panels were Rev. Julian Bilyj, Vicar General, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton and Rector, Ukrainian Catholic Seminary, Rev. Slavko Dumec, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, and Very Rev. Cornell Zubritsky, Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, also in Edmonton.

Borys Sydoruk, Chairman, Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation speaking at the unveiling of the WWI Internment Monument "Endurance" at the Alberta Legislature Grounds, Edmonton, Alberta


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