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WW1 internment camp memorialized

From left: Nicholas Irving, the superintendent of Mount Revelstoke National Park; Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks, Mayor David Raven, and Sam Olynyk, unveil a plaque marking the First World War internment camp on Mount Revelstoke.  - Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
From left: Nicholas Irving, the superintendent of Mount Revelstoke National Park; Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks, Mayor David Raven, and Sam Olynyk, unveil a plaque marking the First World War internment camp on Mount Revelstoke.
— image credit: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review

The First World War internment camp in Mount Revelstoke National Park was marked with a ceremony at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives that was part of a nation-wide commemoration of the camps on Friday.

"With the 100 plaques we hold the memory of all the internees and remind all Canadians of the need to remain vigilant in defence of civil rights and human liberties, particularly in times of domestic and international crisis," said Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.

The ceremony was attended by about 30 people, including MP David Wilks, Mayor David Raven and several members of Revelstoke's Ukrainian committee, some of whom had ancestors that were interned.

August 22 marked the 100th anniversary of the invocation of the War Measures Act at the start of the First World War. The act allowed the Canadian government the right to intern more than 8,000 people — most of them civilians. 100 plaques were unveiled across the country to mark the occassion, including one that is part of the Revelstoke Museum & Archive's new First World War exhibit.

"There were definitely decisions made by government that had very negative impacts on people across Canada, particularly on those of Ukrainian ancestry," said English. "There's no other way to frame that other than to say it was unjust, it was unfair."

In 1915, Revelstoke council actively lobbied for an internment camp in the community. One alderman thought German and Austrian citizens should be interned so "good citizens could get work," said English.

"He thought they were a menace to the community," she said.

That fall, a camp was established in Mount Revelstoke National Park and 200 people, most of whom were classed as Austria-Hungary citizens, but were likely of Ukrainian ethnicity, were interned there. It was expected they would finish building the Mount Revelstoke Auto Road, however by October there was too much snow and the internees were moved to Yoho National Park. It was never re-opened.

The site of the camp is now overgrown and little evidence remains of its existence. A plaque was placed at a lookout near the location to mark the history.

Sam Olynyk told the story of his father's internment in Lethbridge during the war. He was married in the spring of 1916 and interned that fall. Sam's brother Fred was born in February 1917, while his father was in a camp.

"(My father) was so disturbed that he was in Canada for that many years and worked and nobody said anything, but because he had an Austria-Hungary passport, he was picked up and he had no recourse," said Sam Olynynk. "He never talked to us about his internment."

Mayor Raven acknowledged the contribution of Austrian and Ukrainian citizens to Revelstoke.

"I have to acknowledge the contributions of those that have stayed, particularly the Ukrainians and Austrians that are part of our community and have been a big, big part of our community over all that period of time," he said. "Being mayor I can speak for the community and I thank you all for your contributions to our community and making it the rich, diverse place that it is today."

MP Wilks called the camps "unjust" but noted that the mistakes made then were repeated during the Second World War and during the October Crisis of 1970.

"I hope we never repeat them again," he said. "I'd like to think we've come a long way since even 1970 to understand we don't need to recognize a certain group of people to fear that something may happen because there's something going on elsewhere in the world."

 

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