In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada's First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920


171 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps
ISBN 1-896354-22-X
DDC 940.3'1771





Reviewed by Myroslav Shkandrij

Myroslav Shkandrij is head of the Department of German and Slavic
Studies at the University of Manitoba and the editor of The Cultural
Renaissance in Ukraine: Polemical Pamphlets, 1925–1926.


This is a completely revised and substantially expanded version of
Lubomyr Luciuk’s earlier A Time for Atonement. It describes an episode
in Canadian history that is now familiar to many through the documentary
film Freedom Had a Price.

In the years preceding World War I, some 170,000 people came to Canada.
Between 1914 and 1920, many of those who arrived were among the 8579
“enemy aliens” interned by the Canadian government in concentration
camps. As former citizens of Austria, they were considered a dangerous
fifth column within the country. More than 80,000 others, the majority
of them Ukrainians, were obliged to report weekly to special registrars
or the police. During these years, most were interned on the merest
suspicion and did not know why they were being imprisoned.

Beyond this, a cloud was cast over the entire community. Newspapers
were closed down or forced to print their text in parallel Ukrainian and
English columns, so that any seditious references might be detected.
Most Ukrainian Canadians were disenfranchised by the War Times Election
Act of September 1917.

Professor Luciuk documents the entire episode through extensive use of
extracts from newspapers and government documents, evocative
photographs, maps, and illustrations. The xenophobic, sometimes
hysterical commentaries in the English press provide insight into the
atmosphere in which events unfolded: demands that Canada should be
“white” from shore to shore, that interned “aliens” should be
shipped home in cattle cars, that a two-months-old baby born of
“Austrian parents” be denied civic assistance at a hospital, and so
on. In fact, more than half the book consists of source materials and
footnotes. The 1921 Report on Internment Operations is included, as are
relevant House of Commons debates and official correspondence.

This book will be of great interest to students of Canadian history and
politics (particularly its immigrant dimension) because of its
fascinating insights into war fever, cultural blindness, and
bureaucratic narrow-mindedness. It is with relief that the reader
welcomes the sane and fair-minded voices that made themselves heard over
the clamor for punishment.

For Luciuk, the issue has been something of a personal crusade. He
takes pride in recording the erection of monuments to internees on the
grounds of many former camps. The book, although scholarly in tone, also
serves a polemical purpose with great effectiveness.


Luciuk, Lubomyr., “In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada's First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,