Vernon's wartime internment camp stories recalled in print

'Barbed wire disease'

High school students will have a chance to learn about Vernon’s internment camp history.

Copies of the new book ‘Vernon Internment Camp 1914-1920’ were donated to school principals during a launch ceremony Tuesday at W. L. Seaton Secondary.

“This land used to be a jail, an insane asylum, an internment camp and now it’s a high school,” said Lawrna Myers, lead researcher and co-author of the historical collection.

Myers credits her father, not school, with making her aware of Vernon’s dark history at a very young age. “Every time we drove to the Monashee, my father would say “that used to be a prisoner of war camp…”

More than 1,100 men, women and children, mostly of Austro-Hungarian and German descent, were kept against their will and forced to work. Building the highways to Mara, Monashee and Edgewood that many of us travel today.

The book was made possible with grant money from the endowment council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

Andrea Malysh says she only found out about the “tragic page in Canadian history” in 1997 from her involvement with Vernon’s Ukrainian community.

Sparking her own research, “governments destroyed a lot of documents in 1954, making it very difficult for us to prove and settle a redress settlement,” she says.

Malysh adds: “It took our Ukrainian community 25 years to come to an agreement with the Canadian government.”

That eventual agreement led to a $10,000,000 endowment fund that is used to preserve history and educate.

During a monument unveiling in Nanaimo in 1997, Malysh says she was “lucky enough” to find a Vernon internee, Frank Koshe.

He was only six years old at the time, he was incarcerated.

Malysh knew, other than Quebec, Vernon was the only other internment camp to hold women and children. Upon her invitation, Koshe made his first trip back to Vernon for the monument unveiling in MacDonald Park.

“It was very emotional for him, he spent six years of his life behind barbed wire, not understanding why,” recounts Malysh, who has spent her life “trying to right that wrong and educate people about this history.”

“This is all about civil liberties and in a time now where our War Measures Act was implemented four times now in Canadian history, people have to understand that we have rights and we have to uphold our civil liberties in times of domestic crisis,” says Malysh. “It was wrong four times in history … so it’s a very relevant story today.”

Since 2015, Don McNair, Vivian Elgie and Jerry Thompson have collaborated with Myers to author the book, which contains biographical sketches of the lives of the internees, photographs, as well as reaction from citizens of Vernon.

“There were many who died of ‘the barbed wire disease’ – and the worst is when people can’t tell their story,” said Myers.

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