Monday marked a sombre anniversary in northern Ontario: It has been 100 years since the first prisoner died at an internment camp near Kapuskasing.

Fredko Prokop died in the camp on June 1, 1915. It was one of the largest internment camps in the country during the First World War.

The War Measures Act, which was in force from 1914 to 1920, allowed the federal government to imprison thousands of Canadians of Ukrainian, German and Slavic descent, considered enemies and a threat to national security.

Records show Prokop, who was of Austrian background, died of spinal meningitis in the Kapuskasing camp, said Frank Jankac, a researcher and public historian.

'Paranoia and xenophobia'

Prior to war, the Canadian government actively recruited immigrants to settle in Canada. 

Kapuskasing Internment Camp

A monument at the site of an internment camp near Kapuskasing. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

When the war began, society started to turn on the immigrant population and about 80,000 people were registered and had to report to the authorities for the duration of the conflict, while approximately 8,500 were interned in camps around the country, Jankac said.

"They had been victims of paranoia and xenophobia in a so-called civil society and over 100 essentially paid for it with their lives," he said.

The 8,579 so-called "enemy aliens" were mostly civilians and included women and children, Jankac said.

There was a rededication of the interment camp grave sites near Kapuskasing in 2012, but Jankac said it's important to remember what happened at the site 100 years after the first death.

‚Äč

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story provided incorrect information on the number of people interned at camps around the country.
    Jun 03, 2015 11:03 AM ET