That Never Happened: The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens

  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
  • That Never Happened:  The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
Issue 103, July 2017.
That Never Happened: The Untold Story of How Canada Interned its Ukrainian Citizens
 
Imagine a place where during the Great War, Ukrainian men, women, and children were rounded-up and transported to remote places far from their homes. They had committed no crimes, nor been charged or convicted. They were then forced to spend years living behind barbed wire and providing forced labour. Can you believe that place was Canada? At the time, Canada was at war with Germany and Austria-Hungary and interned over 8,500 Ukrainians at work camps (aka concentration camps). They were forced to work on projects like road- and railway- building or in mines or on farms. Most had their savings confiscated and some never returned home. The rest of Canada’s Ukrainian population – some 80,000 people – were forced to register as “enemy aliens”. 
 
A labour of love by a Canadian internment specialist
 
In his feature directorial debut, Canadian actor Ryan Boyko looks at Canada’s First World War internment of Ukrainian-Canadians in Armistice Films’ documentary ‘That Never Happened’. Boyko is what you would call a specialist in Canada’s internment operations, having traveled to all 24 sites the Canadian government used to house the prisoners over the past seven years. He is the writer, director, and producer of the award-winning ‘The Camps’, a two season, 33-episode TV documentary series on the same subject. Like the TV series, ‘That Never Happened’ uses interviews with a number of knowledgeable groups to look at the subject, including descendants of internees, archaeologists, politicians, academics, and even the Canadian military. “My chief aim was to honour the innocent men, women, and children who were treated unjustly over a century ago, and all those who have suffered the ripple effects since”, Boyko told Lviv Today last month.
 
Discovering Canada’s internment past
 
‘That Never Happens’ opens by showing stunning images of Canada’s disparate regions – an East Coast lighthouse, snow-capped forests, the brooding prairies, and the majestic Rocky Mountains. The people-less shots and create a feeling of immensity and insignificance, that one is smaller than their surroundings. A feeling Boyko surely invokes to represent what the internees must have felt while they were shipped to some of the remotest parts of the Canadian hinterland. The film then moves into interviews with knowledgeable people from around the country – Dr. Bohdan Kordan, an academic that has written several books on the subject; Paul Grod, the President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; Capt. Julie Brouchette of the Canadian military; sculptor John Boxel, who created many of the monuments at the sites; archaeologist Sarah Beaulieu; and many descendants of internees, including Jerry Bayrak, whose emotional reminiscing makes for a powerful end to the film. 
 
‘That Never Happened’ is a “Coles Notes” version of the compendium that is ‘The Camps’. It’s a 78-minute exploration of a topic covered extensively in two seasons of the TV series. It serves as an excellent introduction to the subject of Canadian internment, a topic that is not well known – even in Canada. While the film would benefit by offering a counterpoint to the Ukrainian-Canadian community’s take on the subject (e.g. the camps were “make work” projects in a time of high unemployment), the film does feature an official representative from the government as well as extensive comments from former Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette MP Inky Mark, whose private member’s bill recognising the internment of Ukrainians was passed in 2005. The movie closes with a theme of hope, “In these times of ‘alternative facts’, xenophobia, and talk of registering undesirable ‘others’”, says Boyko, “this film has now become an urgent call to those who could easily repeat the mistakes of the past”.
 
Working together with Ukraine
 
Boyko decided to work with Kyiv-based Kinotur in an effort to stimulate a co-production treaty between Canada and Ukraine. The company is Ukraine’s sole digital intermediate lab that offers finishing and mastering services and provided colouring services to ‘That Never Happened’. In addition, Oleksandr Kryshtalovych, the Ukrainian cinematographer of films like Firecrosser and the upcoming Taras Homecoming, served as the director of photography. The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund and Armistice Films funded the film. “When we first started making this project, we thought we were making a historical documentary relevant to a few ethnic communities in Canada”, says Boyko. “We had no idea how incredibly relevant it would be today – not just in Canada, but around the world!”
 
After ‘The Camps’, ‘That Never Happened’ is the second in a three-part audiovisual series Armistice Films is presenting on the subject of Canada’s internment of Ukrainians, culminating in 2018’s feature drama ‘Enemy Aliens’. That film has received partial funding from the Ukrainian State Film Agency and will be co-produced with Ukraine’s Pronto Films. ‘That Never Happened’ made its festival circuit debut in June in Canada and Boyko hopes to screen it at Ukrainian festivals as early as this summer. 
 
-- Lee Reaney