immigrants who had to check in regularly with immigration officials at the Montreal immigration building on St. Antoine St. was Samuel Olynyk, father of Greenfield Park Mayor Steve Olynyk.
Mayor Olynyk says his father, now 97 and living in Greenfield Park, was treated “like a criminal.”
“My dad arrived in 1907, seven years before the war. He was and always has been a good Canadian citizen,” Olynyk says, clutching his father’s wrinkled registration card.
“He told me he felt like he was back in Europe where they used to keep close tabs on Ukrainians. This wasn’t the country he thought it would be.”
John Drozdowich, now 91 and living in a small flat in Point St. Charles was 18 when he came to Montreal in 1913 from the western Ukraine.
He remembers the war years as “a bad time to be Ukrainian.”
“They started to investigate our people right after the war was declared,” Drozdowich says.
Because he had a job — as a laborer with the Grand Trunk Railways — he wasn’t put in a prison camp. But local immigration officers asked him to report once a week, although his employer persuaded authorities to cut that down to once a month.
“I had good connections in the company. Because I was losing hours of work, they helped me report only once a month. But the soldiers would visit me at work sometimes. I had to show them my papers.
“They took some of us to the woods to cut down trees. They told me that, if I didn’t report, they would take me to the forests.”
Between 1915 and 1917, Sprit Lake’s inmates, which included 60 families, cleared more than 500 acres of forest. They were paid 25 cents a day and, as one resident who built bunk houses for the internees recalls, they were fed “cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage.”
Amos Mayor Marcel Lesyk says few people talked about the camp when he was growing up in the area. “Now, hardly anybody talks about it. There’s no interest.”