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Vernon descendants of Ukrainian internees demand government recognition

A letter to the government calls for redress for ‘tragic chapter in the history of our country’
This 1917 photo shows the changing of the guard at the internment camp in Two-Mile. The inmates of the camp were primarily Ukrainian men who entered Canada in the early 1900s on Austro-Hungarian passports. When Canada and the Austro-Hungarian Empire found themselves on opposite sides of the First World War, the men were interned as enemy aliens. Internees from the Two-Mile camp built much of the highway along the east shore of Mara Lake. (Sicamous and District Museum Photo)

After the B.C. government put its support behind the province’s Chinese community in a big way earlier this week, descendants of Ukrainian internees are looking for similar recognition.

On Wednesday the B.C. government announced $10 million in funding to support renovations and operating costs at the Chinese Canadian Museum in Vancouver, which is set to open to the public on July 1.

Vernon’s Andrea Malysh, a Ukrainian internee descendant and president of the Thompson-Okanagan branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, is among the signatories of a letter addressed to Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Lana Popham. Vernon’s Michelle Loughery, also an internee descendent, is another signatory.

Malysh has been steadfast in her advocacy for Ukraine throughout the war with Russia, organizing rallies in support of Ukraine since the invasion.

The letter on behalf of the Descendants of Ukrainian Canadian Internee Victims Association (DUCIVA) applauds the government for financially supporting the Chinese Canadian Museum a full century after the federal government enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“We applaud the government for this recognition of the contributions of British Columbians of Chinese descent who are an essential part of our province’s success,” reads the letter. “As you have stated, this investment not only recognizes the contributions of the Chinese-Canadian community, but also helps revitalize Chinatown, which is both a beloved part of Vancouver and a historically and culturally important neighbourhood.”

The letter goes on to request a meeting with the minister to discuss having the same recognition made for Ukrainian Canadians and others of European descent “who were unjustly interned in eight concentration camps in British Columbia and used for forced labour to build up the British Columbia infrastructure during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914 to 1920.”

The DUCIVA met with Rachna Sing, parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, in 2021, to speak about B.C.’s internment operations and listen to Anne Sadelain, honorary chair of the DUCIVA, about her father’s internment at Vernon, Mara Lake and Morrissey internment camps from 1915 to 1920.

According to the letter, the DUCIVA has never had any further follow-up from Sing on its request for redress.

“We again ask the British Columbia government’s acknowledgement that the unjust treatment of our ancestors is a tragic chapter in the history of our country and province. We seek redress on behalf of our families and on behalf of our communities. Internment and forced slave labour was a violation of their human rights. The economical losses were staggering. A hardship for all,” reads the letter.

The letter asks for financial assistance to educate British Columbians about the “prejudicial and racist practices of a century ago to ensure that no one is ever again imprisoned and enslaved because of where they were born.”

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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