At the turn of the twentieth century, some 170,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Canada. At the time, Ukraine did not exist as an independent country, so many of the incoming immigrants had passports from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the First World War broke out, those immigrants who had come to Canada in hopes of a better future under an Austro-Hungarian passport, were labeled “enemy aliens.” The labeling of those of Austro-Hungarian origin as enemy aliens established limits of social and political acceptance. These people lived on the periphery of society without social or political standing, except as prospective enemy. Aliens of German or Austro-Hungarian origin were considered a liability to Canada during the war. In Canada, some 8,579 enemy aliens were interned during the First World War. Internment is important in the enemy alien story because it deprived certain individuals of their basic human right – freedom. It also placed them in a position where they would be treated as prisoners of war.
The story of internment, including the general outline and details, has been fairly well documented. The internees had been handled as common criminals, forced to work on public works projects, and exposed to treatment that went beyond the customary military regulations applying to prisoners of war.
The discriminatory conditions of the time period in Canada, many being forced to register as an enemy alien, and the ever-present threat of the internment camp made it a difficult time to be Ukrainian in Canada. While continually publishing articles claiming Ukrainian loyalty to Canada, in order to help Ukrainians make sense of this difficult time period, newspapers, such as Український голос (Ukrainian Voice), also published “instructions” for Ukrainians, to help them avoid ending up in the camps. For example, they were advised not to go under railroad bridges, not to express their views, and to avoid hotels and bars.
It was not always so easy to navigate the new world in which these Ukrainians lived. Many immigrants could not speak English, and sometimes this language barrier proved to be difficult for them and they found themselves in unfavourable situations as a result. One such problem, published in Ukrainian Voice, was with the English word “pro.” Due to a lack of knowledge of the English language, it was easy to confuse the word “pro” with the Ukrainian word proty, meaning against. In this situation, someone is asked whether he is “pro-German”. He mistakes the word “pro” for the Ukrainian word “against” and begins to convince them that he is pro-German.[read more]