A major digital project involving First World War internment camps – including one in Vernon at what is now MacDonald Park – launched Monday, May 2. (Onthisspot.ca photo)

A major digital project involving First World War internment camps – including one in Vernon at what is now MacDonald Park – launched Monday, May 2. (Onthisspot.ca photo)

Vernon internment camp part of major digital history project

On This Spot launches app, website, showcasing the history of WWI internment camps in B.C. Interior

A major digital history project recounting the story of Canada’ First World War Internment camps has launched locally.

Between 1914 and 1920, thousands of so-called ‘enemy aliens’ – more than 5,000 whom were Ukrainian — were arrested and sent to internment camps by the Canadian government.

Through striking then-and-now photographs and app-based walking tours, the interactive experience guides people through this chapter of Canadian history at the sites of internment camps across B.C.’s Interior, including Vernon, Fernie, Mara Lake, and Edgewood, among others.

The project was created by On This Spot, a Vancouver-based history tour app developer, and funded by a grant from the Canada First World War Internment Recognition Fund (internmentcanada.ca).

“Many were imprisoned. Stripped of what little wealth they had, forced to do heavy labour in Canada’s hinterlands, they were also disenfranchised and subjected to other state sanctioned censures not because of anything they had done but only because of where they had come from, who they were,” said Vernon’s Andrea Malysh, program manager of the internment fund.

“The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund exists to support projects that commemorate and recognize the experiences of all the ethno-cultural communities affected by Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920.”

All of the content is available at On This Spot’s website (onthisspot.ca) and through the free On This Spot app.

“This project is a timely reminder of the fragility of those freedoms, and how vigilant we must always be in defending them,” said On This Spot CEO Andrew Farris. “As Ukrainians showed us then and are showing us now, freedom is worth defending, even at great cost.”

While the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II is widely known, less known is the story of Canada’s arbitrary and sometimes brutal internment of 8,759 people during the Great War.

Most of the internees were immigrants from the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire and various people from the Ottoman Empire who had come to Canada in search of a better life. A sprawling nation-wide network of 24 camps and receiving stations was established to process and imprison these ‘enemy aliens.’ The camps in British Columbia are the focus of this project. At some of them the internees were forced to build highways in appalling conditions.

The walking tours allow people to tour the sites of these camps, stand in the footsteps of the internees and compare past and present, creating a tangible physical connection with this dark chapter in Canadian history.

While the project is free to use those who enjoyed it are encouraged to follow the links at On This Spot’s website to make a donation to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation which is providing essential humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine.

READ MORE: Vernon internment camp shut down 100 years ago

READ MORE: WATCH: Digging into history east of Cherryville

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