A new film ‘That Never Happens’ looks at the Canadian internment camps of the First World War.
The film reveals the story of Canada's first national internment operations between 1914 - 1920, when over 88,000 people were forced to register and more than 8,500 were wrongfully imprisoned in concentration camps across Canada, not for anything they had done but because of where they came from. Most were Ukrainian immigrants, although many Eastern European nationalities were targeted.
In 1954, the public records were destroyed and in the 1980s a few brave men and women began working to reclaim this chapter in history and ensure future generations would know about it, explains the film backgrounder.
The film was written, directed and produced by Ryan Boyko who was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Saskatoon, and now resides in Ontario.
Interestingly, Boyko didn’t come at the film because of a family connection to the story.
“I don’t have an immediate family connection, at least not one that I am aware of,” he said.
But, he knew a good story when he saw it.
“Once I hit 30 I was not going out for the kind of parts I wanted as an actor anymore so I wanted to make my own work,” said Boyko. “I started working on a feature film on the subject of internment because I had a great hook in the fact that nobody knew about it.
“It took many years to get the script to a point where it had been thoroughly researched and was historically accurate.”
In terms of filming Boyko said they went into it with a plan, but plans do change.
“We had a very clear understanding going in of what footage we had and what was missing,” he said.
“However if you were to look at the film’s treatment on day-one and compare it to the finished product you would be seeing two very different films. We were fortunate that we were able to collect a lot of previously shot video including sculpture unveilings and academic talks.
“Unfortunately there were no survivors so we had to rely on oral history to tell the story. I think that makes the film more powerful because without being told about the multigenerational effects that internment had on families, the audience sees and experiences them first hand.”
They also made sure the film, Boyko’s first as director, captured the essence of the story by having it reviewed ahead of completion.
“We had a lot of industry insiders view the film before it was locked as a final film and one of the things we kept being asked for was to tell us what we were about to see,” said Boyko. “At that point we had a black text slug over top of where we knew Inky Mark (MP from Dauphin), was going to be in an excerpt from the House of Commons but we hadn’t tracked down the footage yet. When we finally got it Inky describes exactly what internment was, who was affected and why we should care. It was the missing piece of the puzzle. We knew Inky Mark had spoken on the subject in the House of Commons but had no idea what he said. This was the best piece of archive footage we found and it fit perfectly. I don’t think the film is as effective without it.”
Interestingly, with many Ukrainians from Saskatchewan most were not placed in the camps.
“Fortunately Saskatchewan was largely spared from the internment operations because Canada needed the grain,” explained Boyko. “When I was there this summer I heard of more stories of farmers around Hyas that had been interned, so they were indeed interned but we don’t know who or how many.”
It is a list that is trying to be compiled.
“The Canadian First World War Internment Fund is actively creating a list of all of the internees,” said Boyko. “There were 8579 people interned. As of now we have just over 4000 names with documenting evidence so I’m always telling people to look through family documents. The Government destroyed their copies of the Internment documents but internees would have had their own record. Many have been thrown out as people pass away but local churches and museums as well as relatives likely have documentation that they are not aware of.
“As we continue to educate people on the Internment Operations I hope more people will come forward with documentary evidence so we can eventually name all 8579 people along with at least one document per person.”
In terms of filming expected challenges proved not to be.
“You know I thought the most challenging part would be working with the Canadian Government and getting it out to a non-Ukrainian audience,” said Boyko. “The Government was actually amazing and we worked with both Conservative and Liberal Federal governments and they both did what they could to help us tell the story. We got unlimited access to Parks Canada (many of the camps were in National Parks), fairly open access to the Canadian Military ,and were supported by the permanent mission of Canada to the United Nations and we screened the film in Geneva as Canada’s contribution to the 70th Anniversary of the Universal declaration of Human Rights.
“Then I thought it would be difficult to get those outside of the affected communities to see the film yet they turned up in droves.
“The hardest part of telling this story has actually been getting Canadians with Ukrainian Heritage, as well as all of the other affected communities to see this film. The feedback has been ‘Yeah we know all about it…’ or ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’, that is at least until they see the film.”
So what does Boyko think is the best aspect of the film?
“I think the best aspect of the film is that it has encouraged conversation,” he told Yorkton This Week. “It has encouraged further research. Parks Canada added a new John Boatel Sculpture to Yoho National Park as a direct result of their representatives seeing ‘That Never Happened’.
“It has also put this story in the main stream and I am encouraged that it will eventually find its way to church basements and community halls.
“Technically speaking the best aspect of this film is the use of drones. We began filming in 2016 and at that time drone use in documentary was not a thing. We were the first company in Canada to have access to the 4K drone that we used in the making of this film. So from a technical standpoint that’s the best part. Everyone uses drones now (and 4K is nothing) but at the time most people were either not getting aerial shots for documentaries or they were still using helicopters. A lot has changed in three-years.”
However, like many film projects funding was a barrier.
“The problem was financing,” offered Boyko.
“So I had done all of this research and had all of these ideas on how to tell the story but didn’t have the appropriate budget to do it.
“It was around that time I was asked if I would be willing to take a camera and go to all of the former internment sites and film what was left. I said no because that would just be what we call ‘B-Roll’ in film and it is not interesting.
“I had been going to many film events and at the time I was heading to the Banff World Media Festival and everyone was looking for short form content. So I said I have an idea. ‘Let me make a pilot of a short form series while I’m in Banff and if you like it I can propose to do that.’ So I shot the first episode of ‘The Camps’ called Castle Mountain. I presented it to The Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund and said I could make 26 episodes. We got the green light to move forward and I ended up delivering 33 episodes and came in on time and under budget.
“However I didn’t feel like the story was complete. Two nagging questions kept coming up. What happened to the women and children? And why should we care? How is it important today?”
Boyko said the importance of the film has grown beyond his initial expectation.
“When I was making it I thought it was going to be a small film for the Ukrainian Canadian community likely to be relegated to church basements and community halls,” he said.
“And at the same time as I was putting the plan into action I was starting to see xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment crop up in the world around us. It was startling and it still is startling. We are all immigrants to Canada and yet we still seem to have this fear of the other. I think it struck a chord with people when it was complete, a cord that I could never have predicted -- hoped for but not predicted.”
Still Boyko is satisfied with the overall story he created?
“I am very satisfied with the film and I will also say that it is not the definitive piece on Internment,” he said. “It is a launching pad. The story as we know it today, the story from multiple perspectives. However I am acutely aware that there are just as many stories as there were internees, as many stories as there were guards and as many stories as there were affected families of the internees. So this film is not everything on internment. It can’t be.
“I hope that through this work other stories, details and camps will be found in the years to come.”
Boyko said he now hopes the film reaches the broadest audience possible.
“To be honest I was optimistic when I started this project and I said that the target audience was all Canadians,” he said. “People kept telling me to narrow the scope and target it, or at least give an age range. So I said Grades 7 and up. But it is still all Canadians.
“This is not an ‘ethnic’ film. It’s Canadian History. Canadian History that was systemically erased and removed from the history books and the education system. I’m happy to say that Canada’s First National Internment Operations was put back into the school curriculum in every province in Canada in 2011 and I hope that teachers will utilize this film to help further educate Canadian youth.”
The film is available for Download on iTunes, Googleplay, YouTube Premium, Shaw on Demand and Bell on Demand
For Teachers through McIntyre Media https://www.mcintyre.ca/titles/ICE022
And for those who still like DVD’s it can be purchased on our website www.armisticefilms.com