Men keep alive memory of detained Ukrainians
BY BOB FLORENCE, THE STARPHOENIX
NOVEMBER 8, 2011 3:11 AM
Otto Boyko wants his dad’s watch – a pocket watch.
“He spoke fondly of it,” said Otto, a man in his 70s. “I would like it to be
Talking about his dad, his voice broke.
His dad, Maksym, was thought to be a threat to Canada during the First World
War, not because of anything he did, just because of where he was from. As a
recent immigrant from a part of Eastern Europe controlled by the
AustroHungarian Empire, he was a casualty of the War Measures Act and was
labelled an enemy alien.
Canadian police took his money and his watch and sent him to an internment
camp. He lived behind barbed wire. He was forced to do labour, including
logging in Quebec in winter.
This is how Canada treated certain foreigners during the war. Some were shot
trying to escape camp, others were tied up and dragged in a river. Maksym
and thousands of others took the heat simply for being Ukrainian.
After coming to Canada, a place he considered a land of opportunity, Maksym
was a prisoner for 18 months.
He was released in 1916, age 42 and single. He went to work at a steel mill
in Hamilton, then ran a market garden in St.
Catharines, Ont. He moved to Saskatoon and built a boarding house on Avenue
D, marrying a woman who roomed there with her girlfriend.
Maksym and his wife settled in Prince Albert, raising five sons and two
“We’d go fishing in the North Saskatchewan River and he’d tell me stories
about being a prisoner of war,” Otto said. “It didn’t register with me
It does now. Otto, who lives in Edmonton, said the high school history
curriculum in Alberta is going to tell the story of Ukrainians being sent to
prison camps. Other provinces are expected to follow.
There is more.
A memorial marker on the grounds of the Saskatchewan Railway Museum near
Pike Lake recognizes an internment camp that was there for three weeks in
1919, in a place called Eaton. It was the only Saskatchewan prison camp
among 24 in Canada.
There is Bohdan Kordan. A professor in St. Thomas More College at the
University of Saskatchewan, Kordan has received a grant to study and write
about internment camps, adding to the volume of work he has done on the
Although gone, this ugly part of Canada’s past is not forgotten. Helping to
keep it alive is Lubomyr Luciuk.
Raised in Kingston, Ont., he used to play at Fort Henry, a national historic
site linked to the War of 1812.
“A beautiful site,” Luciuk said. “I didn’t realize it was an internment
camp. I thought, ‘Wow. Is this real? A camp here? Why isn’t this taught?'”
He got busy.
Luciuk, who is a profesor at Royal Military Colege in Kingston, has done a
truckload of research on internment camps. He knows names and places. He has
talked with internees.
Mary Bayrak was the last survivor among the Ukrainians in camps, dying three
years ago. That was just about the time the Canadian government started to
support internment projects, paying for everything from films to art to
commemorative events. Called the First World War internment recognition
fund, it might be Luciuk’s crowning achievement.
“I spent a quarter of my life working on this,” said Luciuk, 58, who doesn’t
have relatives who were in the camps, but a connection thicker than blood.
“We didn’t ask for an apology (from the government). We didn’t want
compensation. This is about memory, not money.
“Did I see it taking this long? No. My parents always said to me, ‘If you
start something, finish it. If you do something, do it well.’ The story
needs to be told. This work is all for naught if it’s not for something.
“I hate to play Man of La Mancha and make it poetic, make it sound like we
were tilting at windmills. But this is what needed to be done and we did
Although Luciuk regrets that no former prisoners were alive to see the start
of the recognition fund he prompted, he considers today’s generation. He
thinks of exhibits going up in national parks where internment camps used to
be. He thinks of his daughter in university, learning about a slice of
Canadian history that might otherwise have faded away.
Said Otto Boyko: “All that’s wanted is recognition.”
Otto was 12 when his father died. Otto worked for 21 years in the Canadian
military and another 21 with the RCMP. He will probably never see his father
Maksym’s pocket watch. What he does have is an old wooden hook, dating to
when his dad worked in a prison camp almost 100 years ago.
“Dad used the hook to knit mitts and make inserts for boots,” Otto said.
(c) Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
Men keep alive memory of detained Ukrainians