Exactly one hundred years ago this month, Canada’s first national internment operations began during World War One. During that time thousands of newly arrived immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian empire were imprisoned. It’s a period not often spoken about, but there is new light being shed on this dark chapter in Canadian history.
John Mamuza is a first generation Canadian-Croatian, his father immigrated to Canada in the early 20th century looking for a better life.
Instead, he was branded an enemy alien and interned against his will by the Canadian government.
“It’s sad knowing this happened to him, I mean coming over here for a promising future and have this happen to him.”
Mamuza’s father was one of thousands held in 24 internment camps across the country between 1914 and 1920. Canada was at war with Austria-Hungary and the War Measures Act made it mandatory for aliens of enemy nationality to register with authorities.
“What the Canadian government didn’t understand,” says Mamuza, “is that most of these groups left Austria-Hungary as opponents of the regime. They came to Canada for a new life, a better life in a democratic country.”
It’s a dark and often unknown piece of Canadian history, but there’s now a movement to bring recognition to it. 100 plaques are being unveiled in 100 communities across Canada to mark the 100th anniversary of the country’s first national internment operations.
Mamuza’s father was a founding member of the Croatian national home where one of four plaques in Hamilton hang.
I thought it was nice. I think it’s really good that people are still interested and really care about stuff that happened a long time ago.”
The other three plaques are located at Hamilton City Hall, Saint Vladimir on Barton, and the Holy Cross church on King Street.