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Do you have a story about the internment of refugees from Nazism in Canada?

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Lesson: Accidental Immigrants


Students learn about how the “enemy aliens” journeyed to Canada and, through former internee testimony, about how they were received upon their arrival in Canada.

Links to Historical Thinking Concepts:

Use Primary Source Evidence – Students consider what eyewitness testimony reveals about the internees’ arrival in Canada.

Take Historical Perspective – Students consider how Canadians viewed the internees arriving on their shores in 1940.

Understand the Ethical Dimensions of History – Students take a perspective on whether the Canadian government should take responsibility for belongings taken from the internees upon their arrival in Canada.

Diary Reflection: A Perilous Journey

Have students explore this page of the website or pre-assign Reading: A Perilous Voyage.

Students work independently to write a diary entry from the perspective of one of the refugees aboard the S.S.(Steamship) Duchess of York, S.S.(Steamship) Ettrick or the S.S.(Steamship) Sobieksi. The journal should describe conditions on the ship, memories about their lives in Europe and feelings about an uncertain future.

Students share the journal entries with a classmate.

Video Screening: An Enemy’s Welcome

In pairs (or, as computer access permits, individually or in groups), students view Video: An Enemy’s Welcome, which features internees recalling their arrival in Canada. Students should watch the video twice; on the first viewing, students watch and listen carefully, while on the second viewing, students should note the incidents described by the former internees.

As pairs or groups, students discuss:

  • How did the Canadian military receive the internees?
  • How do the internees describe their experiences of being robbed?
  • What are your thoughts about the irony of refugees of Nazism being received as Nazis?

As a class, discuss:

  • Do students think the refugees should be compensated for their stolen belongings? Why or why not?
  • The Canadian government has issued apologies and, on occasion, provided restitution and compensation for victims of historical injustice. Such actions have taken place with regard to the denial of Sikh immigrants aboard the Kamagata Maru, the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and to First Nations victims of the residential school system. Introduce concepts of redress and restitution to students and guide a discussion about the following statement. “It is important that governments acknowledge and redress past injustices.”

Extension: The Dunera

Students explore the web page about the HMT Dunera and research the experiences of the refugees aboard this ship, comparing the policies of Canada and Australia vis-à-vis the interned refugees.

Accidental Immigrants
in the classroom


Accidental Immigrants
Students learn about how the “enemy aliens” journeyed to Canada and, through internee testimony, about how they were received upon their arrival in Canada.


A Perilous Voyage


Internee Testimony: An Enemy’s Welcome

Complete Teachers’ Guide to Enemy Aliens
PDF 7.8 MB

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