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Nanaimo Museum’s new First World War ‘enemy alien’ exhibit opens this weekend

Experience of interned German and Ukrainian people to be explored
Nanaimo Museum. (News Bulletin file photo)

The First World War “enemy alien” experience of German and Ukrainian immigrants will be explored at Nanaimo Museum starting this month.

According to a press release, the new exhibition ‘Enemy Aliens – Internment in Canada, 1914-1920’ will have displays looking at internment operations and the experiences of the internees. In all, Canada interned 8,579 men, of primarily Ukrainian and German heritage, across 24 camps. The exhibit encompasses 33 photos from the Canadian War Museum, Library and Archives Canada, and many university, archival and private collections from across Canada, the press release said.

“It traces the history of First World War internment from the pre-war immigration boom – when the Canadian government actively recruited European immigrants – to the declaration of war and the enactment of the War Measures Act, which allowed the government to register and intern many of those same immigrants,” said the press release.”The exhibition explains the division of internees into ‘first’ and ‘second’ class, and depicts the often rough conditions in the camps. Finally, it describes efforts to revive and preserve the history of First World War internment camps in Canada.”

Nanaimo Museum will contribute pictures, maps, as well as stories of the people interned at the camp in Nanaimo.

“First World War internment is an important part of Nanaimo’s history,” said Aimee Greenaway, Nanaimo Museum curator, in the press release. “This exhibit provides an opportunity to open up conversations in the community about the impacts of this historical injustice.”

Caroline Dromaguet, Canadian Museum of History interim president and CEO and Canadian War Museum director general, said in the release that the history of internment during the First World War in Canada is not well known.

“I hope this exhibition will broaden the public’s understanding of how the war tore apart the lives of the internees and their families, and changed Canadian society at large,” she said.

The exhibit will run at Nanaimo Museum from Feb. 12 to May 21.

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