When Mary Manko Haskett tried to tell her children that she was interned as a little girl in a concentration camp in Spirit Lake, Que., they didn't believe her.
They couldn't find the lake on a map and assumed the family matriarch, born in Montreal, was referring to something that happened "in the old country." After all, Canadian school books made no mention of the sorry episode.
Now, the 97-year-old sole survivor of this dark chapter in Canadian history can rest easy that her traumatic time in 1915 in a bush camp, where she watched her little sister die, will never be forgotten.
The internment of 8,579 Eastern Europeans, including 5,000 Ukrainian Canadians, is now part of Canada's historical memory, recognized this week by Prime Minister Paul Martin in a ceremony in Regina -- after years of lobbying by the Ukrainian-Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
"I can never forget what was done to my family and me. We were innocent and yet we were treated as enemy aliens. Worse, perhaps, the country forgot about what was done to us," Mrs. Haskett once told UCCLA director Lubomyr Luciuk for a book he wrote.
Fran Haskett, Mrs. Haskett's daughter, received the news of the federal move to acknowledge the internment from the Prime Minister yesterday in a telephone call.
"This really redresses an injustice that was done," she said. "My mother's rights as a Canadian were violated. I hope it won't happen again against other minorities like Muslims. We shouldn't be rounding up and imprisoning people for no good reason."
Ms. Haskett said that her mother no longer has the mental capacity to understand the news, but she and another of Mrs. Haskett's daughters spent the day with her in her nursing home in Mississauga, Ont., marking the occasion.
Mrs. Haskett was never looking for an apology or compensation, only acknowledgment that the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians in 24 camps between 1914 and 1920 happened and that Canada stole the dreams of those it detained.
Some were killed trying to escape the confines of the barbed wire. Some simply gave up hope and committed suicide.
At the opening of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Winnipeg yesterday, Mr. Martin pointed to the acknowledgment of the internship as a way of confronting a dark episode in Canadian history.
"This agreement . . . is a significant step forward in coming to grips with the experience, the unacceptable, the untenable, the unfathomable experience of Ukrainian-Canadians during the First World War," he said.
Although Mr. Martin did not technically apologize at the ceremony in Regina on Wednesday, he pledged $2.5-million for memorials and educational materials to mark the era.
"It's not about money. It's about memory," Dr. Luciuk said.
Dr. Luciuk, who teaches political geography at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., is the author of two books about the events. He pored over federal documents and interviewed survivors who detailed -- often reluctantly -- their experiences in the camps.
After Britain entered the First World War in August of 1914, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden introduced the War Measures Act, and with it an order in council that forced some of those with "enemy nationality" to register and sent others to what the government described at the time as "concentration camps."
About 5,000 of those sent to camps were people of Ukrainian heritage who had moved to Canada from lands under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which became Canada's enemy during the war. Another 80,000 people - most of them also of Ukrainian background - had to carry identity papers and regularly report to local authorities and were denied rights, including the ability to vote.
Many had come to Canada at the turn of the century, when the government encouraged Ukrainian immigration with promises of freedom and free land. Mrs. Haskett's parents came from a part of Ukraine that then belonged to Poland. They settled in Montreal and began to have children.
In April of 1915, the government rounded up Mrs. Haskett's family and several other Ukrainian families from Montreal's Point St. Charles area. They were taken to an internment camp in Spirit Lake, today known as Lac Beauchamp, in Quebec's Abitibi region. Even though Mary and two of her siblings were born in Canada, their parents came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So they were registered as "enemy aliens."
Six-year-old Mary, her brother John, sisters Annie and Carolka and parents Andrew and Katherine lived in a bunkhouse in the woods. Mr. Manko cut firewood and cleared forests. The children lost a year of school. The family was issued just two pairs of stockings. Carolka, 2½, didn't make it through the winter. The Manko family has never been able to locate her grave.
The Mankos were released on June 14, 1916, the same year that all enemy aliens lost the right to vote in Canada.
The motivation behind the treatment of these people is up for debate.
Some say it was xenophobia. Others point to wartime fervour. Canada was aligned with Britain against Austria-Hungary. It was facing a labour shortage. The internment camps provided cheap -- if not free -- labour to build the infrastructure and economy.
Some 171,000 Ukrainians called Canada home by 1914.
Then, by a combination of bad luck, bad timing and where they lived, some were forced to turn over money and property, which, according to McGill University historian J.H. Thompson, the Canadian government later auctioned for 10 cents on the dollar or kept. Some of that wealth is still in federal coffers.
The camps and work sites were set up in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Those of German heritage were sent to the more comfortable camps -- even though Imperial Germany was the wartime enemy -- while racism drove most of the Ukrainian detainees to the wilds of Northern Quebec and the backcountry of British Columbia and Alberta.
Life in the camps was difficult, according to accounts of survivors and those in charge.
"There they were obliged not only to construct the internment camps, but to work on road-building, land-clearing, wood-cutting and railway construction projects," Dr. Luciuk wrote.
Overall, 107 detainees died in the camps -- some on the job, some during escape, some by their own hand.
However, Mary Manko Haskett still lives.
"You can right a historical wrong," Dr. Luciuk said. "Thank God it happened in Mary's lifetime."