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Osoyoos Museum exhibition shows Canadian internment of Ukrainians
A newly arrived travelling exhibition about the internment of Ukrainians in Canada during the First World War has opened at the Osoyoos and District Museum and Archives.
The exhibition, called “The Barbed Wire Solution,” is on loan from the Vernon Museum and expected to be in Osoyoos until the end of October.
Originally produced by the Ukrainian Research and Documentation Centre, the exhibition was created for the 80th anniversary of the first internment operations in Canada in 1994. More than 8,500 men, women and children, mostly Ukrainians, were interned in 24 camps across Canada between 1914 and 1920.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I as well as the start of the Ukrainian internment. In June, Parks Canada opened a new exhibition on the Ukrainian internment in Banff National Park, which has been controversial.
“This exhibit is a little old now,” said Ken Favrholdt, curator at the Osoyoos Museum. “It’s still a good exhibit, but it’s been replaced by a more modern interpretation.”
While critics have suggested the newer Banff exhibition sanitizes this shameful period of Canadian history, the Osoyoos exhibit illustrates with historic photographs, models and artifacts some of the wretched conditions where Ukrainian Canadians were imprisoned and forced to work.
During World War I Canada invoked the War Measures Act and rounded up immigrants from nations allied with Germany and Austria as “enemy aliens” – even people who a few years earlier had been enticed by the Canadian government to come to Canada.
The exhibition shows that there were camps in most Canadian provinces, including several in B.C., with the closest to Osoyoos being at Vernon.
A model shows a desolate camp location at Kapuskasing in northern Ontario, with bunk houses surrounded by barbed wire fences, while a ship in a bottle shows the creative pastimes some prisoners turned to.
The exhibition is in English and French and there is a 55 minute video that visitors can request to see.
“The exhibition reveals the past attitudes of Canadians and our government and how much we have changed over time to become a less racist, more tolerant and inclusive society,” said Favrholdt. “Survivors of many ethnic groups are still dealing with the legacy of such policies of victimization.”
A special presentation about the exhibit will take place in September.
For more information contact the Osoyoos Museum at 250-495-2582 or visit osoyoosmuseum.ca.
BY RICHARD McGUIRE