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Plaque marks Nanaimo's internment history

Father Theo Machinsky, parish priest for St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, talks about the First World War internment operations during the unveiling and blessing of a new plaque recognizing the internment of Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans 100 years ago.  - TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/The News Bulletin
Father Theo Machinsky, parish priest for St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, talks about the First World War internment operations during the unveiling and blessing of a new plaque recognizing the internment of Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans 100 years ago.
— image credit: TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/The News Bulletin

Prisoner of war 629.That was the number assigned to Anne Clark’s Ukrainian grandfather Steve Sadowsky 100 years ago, when he was arrested under the War Measures Act and taken to an internment camp in Northern Ontario.

On Friday, Clark told his story as a new plaque was unveiled and blessed at Nanaimo’s St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish to mark the centennial of Canada’s first national internment camps.

Local dignitaries and Island residents turned out for the event, the last of 100 unveilings across Canada orchestrated by the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Foundation. The initiative recognizes the internment of 125 to 200 Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans in Nanaimo at the start of the First World War.

Another plaque is expected to be installed by the City of Nanaimo on an existing waterfront cairn within three weeks.

“It’s very touching to see that we’re putting history right by telling the whole story, the real story,” said Clark.

Under the War Measures Act, more than 8,500 women, children and men of eastern European descent would be interned in 24 camps right across Canada. In Nanaimo, a camp opened Sept. 20, 1914, in the old provincial jail near Stewart Avenue and Townsite Road and would keep all the prisoners of war on Vancouver Island until they were transferred to Vernon in 1915.

Victoria’s Glenda Kohse said her grandfather, grandmother and uncle were interned in Nanaimo. Her grandmother was English and didn’t need to go, but her husband was the breadwinner, Kohse said, adding her grandmother didn’t realize just how long they were going to be there. They weren’t released until 18 months after the Allies signed the armistice with Germany.

“I think people need to know about it,” Kohse said of the camp. “We hear about the Japanese internment camps from World War Two but no one talks about World War One.”

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