Fernie At War
The Morrissey Internment Camp
The Dominion of Canada entered the Great War with Great Britain on August 4, 1914. From then to the end of the war on November 11, 1918, over 1,100 men from the East Kootenay served King and Country.
The Elk Valley also played a much darker role in Canada’s war effort.
During Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914 to 1920 thousands of men, women and children were branded as “enemy aliens.” Many were imprisoned at one of twenty-four internment camps located from Nanaimo to Halifax. Stripped of what little wealth they had, forced to do heavy labour in Canada’s hinterlands, they were also disenfranchised and subjected to other state sanctioned censures not because of anything they had done but only because of where they had come from, who they were.
Morrissey, an abandoned coal mining town just thirteen kilometers south-west of Fernie, became the site of an internment camp in late September 1915. Here, over 800 “enemy aliens” were detained in total until the Morrissey internment operations ceased in October 1918. The 290 men initially detained at Morrissey were local Elk Valley residents, many of whom had immigrated to Canada to escape the oppressive rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
This exhibit explores a painful period in Canada’s history, illustrating how a war fought on the front lines of Europe, Asia and Africa would have a profound impact on the lives of people thousands of miles away in the coal mining communities of the Elk Valley and the Crowsnest Pass.