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Paving the way for future immigrants

The years of internment during the First World War were frightening for many immigrants in Canada.

The same fear now plagues a new set of Canadian immigrants, according to Kassandra Luciuk, a University of Toronto history PhD candidate and researcher of the Ukrainian-Canadian internment during the First World War.

“For Ukrainian Canadians, it’s important to remember because, as this history moves further into the past, it becomes easier to forget that the very same things that impact migrants in Canada today once impacted them too,” said Luciuk.


Wreaths decorated the base of the Castle Mountain monument. The site is used to remember the events of 1914 to 1920. Photo by Curtis Larson. 

In 1914, many Anglo-Canadians were concerned that newcomers were taking their jobs and it lead to feelings of resentment.

Eventually, the internment operations began and Luciuk said it wouldn’t take another war to bring out the same resentment in the country today.

“I don't think that the government has really learned anything. I mean if they had that we wouldn't see this happen once again in a different context,” said Luciuk.

“We wouldn't see sort of like the increasingly sort of like hostile and difficult policies towards immigrants refugees today.”

Luciuk compares Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW) to the dominion of Canada in 1911 inviting members of the Austrian-Hungary Empire and Ottoman Empire to Canada with the promise of work and homesteads.

“TFWs – like internees before them – are conceptualized as disposable bodies that can help build Canada but cannot participate, as citizens, in the nation,” said Luciuk in an email.

Though she admits it’s not a perfect analogy, the same rhetoric and feelings about losing jobs to immigrants can still be felt today.

TFW program is a government program that allows immigrants to come to Canada to work for four years before having to return to their home country. They are not considered Canadian citizens but can apply to become permanent residents if they choose to.  

It is designed to help employers fill short-term gaps in Canada’s labour market, according to the government website.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, in 2011 there were 192,000 TFWs who entered Canada and 29,000 transitioned into permanent workers.  

However, according to Fariborz Birjandian the CEO from the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), there is no cause for concern.

Birjandian said the TFW program is different than what happened during WW1 because Canada now has regulations and rules in place to protect foreign workers during their time in Canada.

“If we are brining tens of thousands of temporary workers to the country it’s because we need them,” said Birjandian.

“It’s like buying oil from other countries -- it’s because we need the oil to run the country.”

Without programs such as this, he says, many industries such as hospitality would suffer and many companies would be forced to close.

“It is a necessity for us, obviously we have to do it wisely. We have to make sure we put Canadians first and make sure regulations are in place so people would not get abused,” said Birjandian.

Otto Boyko, whose father was interned at Spirit Lake said, that in his experience immigrants must assimilate in order to succeed in Canada.

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Otto Boyko served in the Canadian military. He doesn't think his father would mind that he joined the same organization that took him away from his family. Photo courtesy of Olana Thomson.

He never experienced his own Ukrainian culture due to his father’s past and said he was brought up the same way as Anglo-Canadians so he would not stand out.

“You’re trying to be like everybody else living around you and if there’s very few Ukrainian families who aren't really involved in doing anything then it’s kind of difficult,” said Boyko.

He also did not raise his children with any Ukrainian traditions.

“I only recall one instance when we went to a church and my two brothers were in a Mandolin orchestra,” said Boyko.

“That was the only [Ukrainian] thing we partook in.”

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