A very dark chapter in Canadian history took place between 1914-1920. Supposedly driven by security concerns arising from World War I, the Crown made over 88,000 East European immigrants (most from Ukraine) register with provincial governments. Even worse, 8,500 men ended up imprisoned in camps across Canada, many of whom lost all their possessions.
The shadiness of it all doesn’t end there. These families were initially lured to Canada with the promise of farmland, a pledge that seldom materialized. A few decades later, in 1954, records of these internment operations were destroyed. Only in the ’80s did a concerted effort to reconstruct that history begin to take shape. Calls for recognition from the government and reparations would follow.
That Never Happened does a remarkable job researching the subject. The talking heads assembled by director Ryan Boyko — historians, archeologists, descendants — all have valuable information to share. Limited archival footage is complemented by location visits, where remains of these camps can still be found.
The documentary’s shortcomings are mostly technical. Clocking in at 78 minutes, there is plenty of room for the film to breathe. Nonetheless, That Never Happened bombards the audience with information without allowing enough time to absorb it. The uneven cinematography (not even the interviews are uniformly shot) becomes distracting after a while.
From a scholarly perspective, there is undeniable value in collecting and organizing the material. And the chronological approach gives the film a structure to lean on. But the human connection is lacking. In the rare instances where That Never Happened personalizes the consequences of the internment camps — unintended, yet severe — the film soars. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far in between. Two prairie dogs (out of five).
That Never Happened plays this Saturday and Sunday at 7pm at the Rainbow Cinema (Studio 7).