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Luciuk and Konowal

2005-09-17 The Fall meeting of COBWFA was held in the Newcastle Community Hall on a beautiful day. There were fifteen members in attendance to hear our guest speaker, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk of the Royal Military College, Kingston. Professor Luciuk has a special interest in the history of Ukrainian Canadians in the First World War. Their story is a complicated one because Ukraine did not exist as an independent country in 1914.

The land inhabited by Ukrainians was divided into two main regions: the western part was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the eastern part was part of the Russian Empire. This presented a major dilemma for Ukrainians in Canada because Russia and Austria were enemies in the war. Large numbers of Ukrainians had immigrated to Canada after 1896 from both regions. Those from the Russian administered part were encouraged to join the CEF; those from the Austrian administered area were considered to be enemy aliens. Many of the latter including women and children were interned in concentration camps under very difficult conditions and if they were naturalized they lost the right to vote by the Wartime Elections Act.

Filip Konowal arrived in Canada from Ukraine early in the twentieth century. He joined the 77th Battalion in Ottawa and when it was broken up in the UK, was posted to the 47th Battalion (New Westminster). Wounded twice and promoted corporal, he won the Victoria Cross for exceptional valour at Hill 70, Lens, in August 1917.

After the war he served with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force and did not return to Canada until June 1919. His years after the war were not very prosperous. During the Great Depression of the 1930ís, he got a job as a janitor at the Canadian Parliament, and eventually became the special janitor of the prime ministerís office. He died in 1959 and was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery in Ottawa. His Victoria Cross was acquired by the Canadian War Museum.

His VC went 'missing' from the War Museum in the 1960ís. Officially, it had been 'misplaced'. In 2004 it came up for auction in London, Ontario. Prof. Luciuk learned about this in time to alert the RCMP and have the stolen medal recovered. It now has a place of honour in the new war museum.

Branch 360 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto was named after Konowal and was a meeting place for veterans of Ukrainian ancestry. In 2005 the Legion headquarters closed down Branch 360 and Prof. Luciuk has been active in attempts to have this decision reversed.



Victoria Cross