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By: Brian Platt Staff Reporter
A priest lights incense before a small plaque on a wall in a downtown Toronto cathedral and sings a Ukrainian Orthodox hymn.
It’s a small ceremony to commemorate the internment of “enemy aliens” during the First World War: people living in Canada who happened to have come from countries that were now at war with this country.
The plaque in St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, on Bathurst St., will be joined by 100 more across Canada in Ukrainian, German, Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian and Armenian cultural and religious centres.
These were the people targeted when Canada’s War Measures Act was adopted on Aug. 22, 1914.
“May we never allow this to happen again,” said Peter Bayrachny, the cathedral’s president, as the ceremony wrapped up.
About 8,500 people were interned in Canada between 1914 and 1920. They were sent to 24 camps in places like Amherst, N.S., and Banff, Alta. Nearly half of the internees were Ukrainian.
One of them was Nicholas Szady, who had the misfortune of immigrating to Canada from an area within what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in what is now western Ukraine.)
“He came here to escape the empire,” said Szady’s grandson Ted Sosiak, who was at the ceremony. “They said that if they didn’t intern him he might go fight for the empire, which is nutty.”
Sosiak, a family physician, never met his grandfather, but knows the story through his mother. Szady, a farmer, was sent to the Fort Henry camp in Kingston, Ont., then assigned to work at the Canada Cement Plant in Belleville.
“The whole thing was about exploitation of cheap labour,” Sosiak said.
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