Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Internment in Canada During the Great War


202 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2350-2
DDC 940.3'1771




Reviewed by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the World War I historian at the Canadian War Museum. He is
the author of No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the
First World War.


Few episodes in Canadian history have been as painful and scarring as
the internment of “enemy aliens” during World War I. The Great War,
a conflict of unprecedented destruction, required an unlimited war
effort from the whole country. The pressure to “do their bit,”
galvanized vast numbers of Canadians into a crusade-like mentality. As a
result, fiercely patriotic citizens demonized the enemy in propaganda
spewed forth from newspapers, politicians, and even the pulpit. To
assuage the anger and nativistic feelings that ran high throughout
Canadian society, the federal government responded to this pressure and
interned up to 8000 Germans and Ukrainians. While many of the Germans
were military reservists, and therefore rightly interned, it was the
Ukrainians, many of whom had emigrated from Europe to escape the threat
of war, who were unjustly put behind barbed wire.

This attractive book combines sound historical judgments, brilliantly
reproduced photographs, and evocative firsthand accounts from Ukrainians
who were forced to deal with this difficult trial. By digging deep into
the archives of the nation, Kordan has unearthed never-before-seen
photographs and moving testimonials that speak to the harsh nature of
this forced work. Families were torn apart as fathers and sons were
taken and interned in isolated camps. While these stories ring forth as
honest portrayals of Canadians caught in the vortex of wartime reaction,
Kordan might have tried harder to provide the context for the
internment, which, 85 years on, seems incomprehensible to modern
readers. There were reasons for the internment, and not all of them were
driven by blind prejudice. Kordan, who naturally sympathizes with his
subject, does not go far enough in presenting the case as to why
Canadians demanded this odious action, and why their government
acquiesced. Nonetheless, this is a valuable contribution to the
literature and a worthy book for Canadian libraries.


Kordan, Bohdan S., “Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Internment in Canada During the Great War,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9209.