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Neglected graves garner respect

Lawrna Myers, with the Vernon and District Family History Society, believes it’s important to repair the internment graves at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.  - richard rolke/morning star
Lawrna Myers, with the Vernon and District Family History Society, believes it’s important to repair the internment graves at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.
— image credit: richard rolke/morning star

It’s a forlorn corner of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, indicative of a dark past.

However, there are now efforts to shed light on the individuals who were laid to rest as so-called enemies of Canada during the First World War.

“This is about being respectful to people,” said Andrea Malysh, program manager with the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

During the war, internment camps, including at the present site of W.L. Seaton Secondary, were set up for people whose origins were from hostile states such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Most of them were single men who travelled to Canada to pursue a better way of life.

However, once rounded up and confined to the camps, conditions were extremely difficult.

Between 1915 and 1919, seven internees at the Vernon camp died from illness. Five of them were placed in an isolated section of the Pleasant Valley cemetery while the remaining two are elsewhere on the site.

They stayed relatively ignored for decades until Lawrna Myers, with the Vernon and District Family History Society, noticed Stephen Sapich’s grave.

“You can’t even read anything on it,” said Myers of the headstone, which has crumbled into pieces.

Upset over the situation, society members decided to take action.

The society recently received a grant from the CFWWIRF to clean up the graves and install a commemorative plaque.

“It’s disturbing to have an unmarked grave. It’s about marking someone’s time on Earth,” said Myers.

An official unveiling and memorial service will be held May 23, 2015, the day that Sapich was interred in 1917.

Not only will the project pay tribute to the men buried in the cemetery, it will serve as a reminder of the human rights injustices that have occurred in this country, whether it was during the First World War, Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War or to First Nations people.

“We don’t want this to happen again in Canada,” said Malysh.

The actions of the federal government a century ago will also be the focus of a ceremony at the internment mural on the Sutton Group Lakefront Realty building Aug. 22 at 11 a.m.

“This is the date that the War Measures Act was promulgated,” said Malysh of the legislation that led to people being forced into camps.

The ceremony will involve the installation of a plaque by the Ukrainian-Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation.

 

 

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