Under the provisions of the War Measures Act (1914), 8,579 enemy aliens—nationals of countries at war with Canada—were interned in Canada during World War I as prisoners of war. The result of a severe economic recession that coincided with the outbreak of the war, widespread indigence became a major factor leading to the internment of immigrants of Ukrainian and other East European nationality from the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. Sent to prisoner of war camps located in the Canadian hinterland, the civilian internees were used as military conscript labour, working on federal and provincial public work projects as well as for private industry, including railway companies. As the economy expanded and the labour market contracted, internees were gradually released into Canadian society. The scaling back of the internment operations in 1917 led to the dismantling of some camps and the consolidation of others to which a number of the remaining prisoners were relocated.
With the closure of the Morrissey Internment Camp (Fernie, British Columbia) in October 1918, sixty-five internees were relocated to Munson, Alberta on the Goose Lake Railway Line. Quartered in railway cars which served as a base of operations, the internees were put to work repairing and laying new track for six months. However, an outbreak of the 1918 Spanish Influenza and a disastrous train wreck affected the morale among internees and military guard alike, resulting in the relocation of the Munson camp to a hastily constructed camp on the site of the railway siding at Eaton, Saskatchewan. The move on February 25, 1919, did little to placate the inmate population; rather, the growing truculence of the internees, who refused to do any further work on the railroad, an undisciplined military guard anxious to return home from the war, and a successful prison escape prompted authorities to abandon the Eaton siding location for more secure facilities. On March 21, twenty-four days after the facility had been established, the internees were transported by rail to a military installation at Amherst, Nova Scotia. The Eaton Internment Camp was dismantled shortly after that.
One of twenty-six internment facilities created in Canada to accommodate prisoners of war during the period 1914-20, the Eaton Internment Camp was the only facility of its kind in Saskatchewan. Renamed Hawker in 1919, the Eaton siding is located at the junction of Highway 60 and the Canadian National Railway, 4 km southwest of Saskatoon.
Bohdan S. Kordan