3.6.3 Canada and Internment Camps

Should nations pursue national interest?

Big Idea:

  • Nationalism and ultranationalism are significant during times of conflict.

Extreme Nationalism in Canada during World War I

Internee camp at Castle Mountain in Alberta

Internee workers line up for work detail

Women and children arrive at internment camp,
Canmore Alberta
© Library and Archives Canada

Nationalism is often very strong in a country during wartime. A positive aspect of nationalism during times of war is that it can bring the people of a country together in support of one another.

However, a negative aspect of nationalism during times of international conflict is how citizens perceive or treat others who have ties to the enemy country. For example,

  • people may mistrust and even show hatred toward fellow citizens who they believe have ties to the enemy country (even if these fellow citizens were born in the country),

  • people who immigrated from (or are descendants of immigrants from) the enemy country may be mistrusted (most often without actual reasons),

  • propaganda may use prejudiced language or stereotypes to create a sense of fear and anger towards people of the enemy country,

  • people may imagine threats or danger from others, even though there is no actual proof they have committed any treasonous crimes, and

  • people may be accused of being threats to national security, such as spies, or worse, leading to anational interest that demands to have these people locked up.

The negative side of nationalism appears in the form of extreme nationalism, or ultranationalism. Fear and prejudice may drive people to condemn their fellow citizens merely for being members of the same ethnic group as the enemy country.

Nationalism? Or Ultranationalism?

After Canada entered World War I in 1914, the Canadian government issued an Order in Council under the War Measures Act. The order required registration and, in many cases, the internment of people who were considered "enemy nationality". During World War I, this "enemy" designation included former citizens of Germany, Turkey, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over 80 000 Canadians had to register as "enemy aliens" and report to local authorities regularly. Over 2 000 Germans, 205 Turks, and 99 Bulgarians entered internment camps. Ukrainian men were the largest population of internees at 5 000. Although only men deemed "enemy aliens" were housed in internment camps, women and children who were dependent on men (or did not want to be separated from the men) were voluntarily interned as well.

Canada's Internment Camps: Nationalism or Ultranationalism?

Canada's First National Internment Operations (1914 to 1920)
(click image for larger view)
Twenty-four internment camps were built across Canada, including two in Alberta. One Alberta internment camp was located in the Banff National Park area. The camps were supposed to house so-called enemy aliens who were believed to be security threats. However, the "enemy aliens" could be interned if they failed to register, failed to report monthly, travelled without permission, or wrote to relatives in enemy nations.

Sometimes, people would alert the authorities about the so-called enemy aliens in their community for minor infractions (at times imagined) simply because of a prejudice against that ethnic group.

No so-called "enemy aliens" were ever found to have committed acts of treason against Canada during World War I.

View the following resources to gain a sense of Canada's past involvement with internment camps and how internees and their descendants continue to be impacted.

View a Ukrainian descendent's experience with WWI internment camps.

The Surprising Story of Canada's Enemy Aliens
Explore the website A Time for Atonement to gain further understanding of the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during World War I.

View the Heritage Minute for an overview of Ukrainian internment in Canada.

Ukrainian Internment in Canada During WWI

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read page 146, "Internment Camps in Canada" and "Ukrainian Canadians in World War I" to further your understanding of the concepts of ultranationalism and internment camps in Canada during WWI. Add point form notes to the 3.6 Notebook Organizer. As you move to the 3.6.4 Nationalism During Wartime forum, ensure you have a clear understanding of how a nation's actions during wartime reflect their national interest.

Digging Deeper

Explore Internment Canada's website and videos dedicated to the education, awareness, and history of Canada's internment camps in WWI.