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Enemy Aliens

The Flu Hits Internment Camps

New Canadians endure life as “enemy aliens” interned in Canada in 1918

Kandace Bogaert

During the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the Canadian government actively encouraged immigrants from East and Central Europe to come and settle the Canadian West.[1] They offered incentives like 160 acres of free land to set up a homestead (see Figure 1) and even went so far as to call Western Canada “The New Eldorado,” advertising homes, freedom from fear, protection from the government, and rich virgin soil (see Figure 2). Hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Canada in the years prior to 1914 (See Figure 3). With the outbreak of the First World War, 120,000 un-naturalized immigrants from nations suddenly at war with Canada were designated as “enemy aliens.”[2] [3]

Figure 1. Card in Ukrainian (1900–1905), advertising “160 acres of free land in Canada.” On the back side is a map showing potential sea routes to Canada from Europe. Library and Archives of Canada (Copy negative C-006196). Copyright expired.
Figure 2. Western Canada – The New Eldorado (circa 1890–1920). Minister of Immigration, Canada. Library and Archives Canada (1622 File number 161973). Copyright expired.
Figure 3: Immigrant Arrivals in Canada, 1852 to 1920Download

Enemy Aliens

In spite of the promise of “protection from the government” during the First World War, nearly 8,000 un-naturalized migrants from enemy nationalities, including many Ukrainians, were interned as prisoners of war in prison camps across Canada. [4] [5] Conditions in these camps were harsh – along with forcible confinement, men were also made to perform hard labour, with little food; cold, crowded conditions; and brutal treatment by their military guards.[6]

Brutal Conditions

The brutal conditions in Canada’s internment camps had severe consequences. At least 107 prisoners died, with six men shot while attempting to escape. According to General William Otter (see Figure 4), the man in charge of Canada’s internment operations, 52 prisoners died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, and influenza, which amounted to nearly half of all deaths.[7]

Figure 4. Portrait of General Sir William Otter. Library and Archives Canada R13814/e008300575. Copyright expired.

A total of 24 deaths were attributed to pneumonia and influenza among the prisoners; however, since these deaths are not tabulated by year, it is impossible to know how many prisoner deaths occurred during the 1918 influenza pandemic in the five internment camps still open at the time (in Kapuskasing, Ontario; Montreal; Halifax; and Vernon and Fernie, BC).[8]

According to prisoners who wrote a petition to the Imperial German Foreign Office on May 1, 1918, “several prisoners fell sick because of such ill treatment, especially Nos. 335 and 188. No. 335 is at present in the isolation hospital in a hopeless condition.”[9] Their letter went on to describe how at Morrissey Camp (see Figure 5), the civilian prisoners were not allowed to lie down during the day if they felt sick without permission from the medical sergeant. If they disobeyed, they were punished severely, with up to six days in a cell with half rations, performing humiliating work for guards in the guardroom. If they refused, they faced corporal punishment.[10]

Figure 5. Morrissey Internment Camp, BC (1915–1918). Photograph showing internees behind the barbed wire fence and a guard patrolling the perimeter. Library and Archives Canada/PA- 046202. Copyright expired.

The Diseases Spread

One of the prisoners reported to have fallen ill from mistreatment, No. 335, Mike Katalinic, later died from pulmonary tuberculosis at the Morrissey Camp hospital.[11] Tuberculosis and influenza are well known as syndemic diseases.[12] “Syndemic” refers to the interaction between diseases that are perpetuated in specific populations because of the deleterious bio-social conditions that help them spread.[13] The horrible confined living and sleeping conditions, lack of food, physical abuse, and strenuous forced labour are just some of the deleterious conditions that could have contributed to helping tuberculosis (a bacterial infection, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and influenza (an RNA viral infection, of the Orthomyxoviridae family) spread among prisoners interned across Canada.

“Freedom Had a Price”

The effects of internment and deaths in Canada’s internment operations were devastating. In Yurij Luhovy’s 1994 documentary, Freedom Had a Price, Mary Manko-Haskett reflects on the death of her two-year-old sister at the Spirit Lake camp [14] in Quebec in 1915 (Luhovy).[15] Mary asked, “What harm did she do to anybody to be taken that way?” (Luhovy, 36:19–36:29).[16] Mary suspected her sister died from a cold that developed into pneumonia and described how her father made a wooden box and a cross for her burial, and how sad that time was for her family (Luhovy).[17]

While we do not know how many prisoner deaths occurred during the 1918 influenza pandemic, deaths from pneumonia, influenza, and tuberculosis occurred throughout Canada’s internment operations during the First World War. The terrible conditions within internment camps undoubtedly contributed to these deaths, and the impact of internment reverberated through families for generations.


ENDNOTES

[1] Bohdan S. Kordan, Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Internment in Canada during the Great War. Vol. 16. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, 2002.

[2] Kordan, Enemy Aliens.

[3] Lubomyr Y. Luciuk, In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914–1920. Kashtan Press, 2001.

[4] Kordan, Enemy Aliens.

[5] Luciuk, In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence.

[6] Kordan, Enemy Aliens.

[7] William Otter, Internment Operations 1914–1920 (Ottawa: Thomas Mulvey, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1921), print, p. 88.

[8] Otter, Internment Operations 1914-1920.

[9] Kordan, Enemy Aliens, p. 124.

[10] Kordan, Enemy Aliens, p. 124.

[11] Library and Archives Canada; War Graves Registers: Circumstances of Death; Box: 278.

[12] M. Singer and S Clair, “Syndemics and Public Health: Reconceptualizing Disease in Bio-Social Context” (Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17.4 423–41, 2003).

[13] M. Singer et al., “Syndemics in Global Health” (A Companion to Medical Anthropology, ed. M. Singer and P. I. Erickson, Oxford, John Wiley & Sons, 2011) 159–177. Print.

[14] One of only a few camps where entire families were imprisoned.

[15] Yurij Luhovy, Freedom Had a Price (National Film Board of Canada, 1994).

[16] Luhovy, Freedom Had a Price, 36:19–36:29.

[17] Luhovy, Freedom Had a Price.


REFERENCES

Kordan, Bohdan S. Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Internment in Canada during the Great War. Vol. 16. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, 2002.

Library and Archives Canada; War Graves Registers: Circumstances of Death; Box: 278.

Luciuk, Lubomyr Y. In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914–1920. Kashtan Press, 2001.

Luhovy, Yurij. Freedom Had a Price. National Film Board of Canada, 1994.

Otter, William. Internment Operations 1914–1920. Ottawa: Thomas Mulvey, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1921.

Singer, M. et al. “Syndemics in Global Health.” A Companion to Medical Anthropology. Ed. M Singer and PI Erickson. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. 159–177.

Singer, M., and S. Clair. “Syndemics and Public Health: Reconceptualizing Disease in Bio-Social Context.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17.4 (2003): 423–41.

To find out more, check out these resources:

Freedom Had a Price, by Yurij Luhovy – NFB

Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund