This is my 2nd post this week with a Remembrance Day theme. My focus is still on the home front in Canada during World War II.
At the risk of sounding a little glib, I’m aware that Canada isn’t exactly a train ride away from where the battle lines were drawn in Europe. So I was more than a little surprised when I learned that there had been prisoner-of-war camps in Toronto and the surrounding area.
It sounded incredible to me that prisoners would have been shipped across the Atlantic and then all the way to Southern Ontario, which is over another 1,700 km (1.050 miles) away from the coast.
Incredible, but true.
One of those POW camps – known simply as Camp 30 – was located outside of Bowmanville – a community of only 4,100 in 1941, about 80 km (50 miles) from downtown Toronto.
I was introduced to Camp 30 by fellow blogger, Lynn Martin from Life After 50. A few years ago we met for a bike ride and as we rode down a quiet country road, she pointed out the boarded-up buildings. At the time, we didn’t stop but I filed away the information for another day.
That day came this week.
Although I left Toronto in bright sunshine, it didn’t last long and I ended up roaming alone around the large site in the gloom of another typical November morning. The moodiness of the light added a heaviness to the feeling of these abandoned buildings.
Bowmanville is now a community of about 40,000 and housing developments butt up against the southern edge of the site, but across the road from the northern entrance are still fields of dry corn stalks.
The camp was originally a boys’ school which was requisitioned by the government in 1941 and quickly converted into a facility to house prisoners and their guards, complete with barbed wire fences and guard towers – none of which exist today.
During its operation, the site apparently housed almost 900 highly ranked POW officers.
Well, exactly because it was so far away. With London under constant bombing in the early 1940s, there were concerns that if England was ever invaded then any POWs would end up back in the fighting from within the country. Sending them far away ensured these officers would never see action again.
Camp 30 was said to be rather posh. The prisoners were well treated, had access to a gym and swimming pool, and were well-fed. In spite of that, there were several attempts to break out of the prison although none of them were successful. The most serious attempt resulted in the 3-day Battle of Bowmanville when the prisoners attempted to take over the camp.
When the war ended, the POWs were all shipped back home and the site was again restored as a boys’ school. However, the property has now been sitting vacant since 2008.
All of the buildings have been badly vandalized. In addition to graffiti everywhere, all the windows and doors were broken and are now boarded-up.
Amid concerns that the site was being eyed for a housing development, Camp 30 was declared a National Heritage Site in 2013, but no action has yet been started to preserve the buildings. The price tag will be enormous. In spite of the signs, I could not find evidence of any cameras and sadly, it appears the vandalism continues.
I hope you’ll remember this weekend to pay honour to all those who fought for your country and all those behind the scenes who supported our soldiers.
I’ll leave you with more scenes from this little known piece of history with my hope that it’s not completely lost to the lethal combination of time, vandalism, and neglect.
This post is tagged to Thursday Doors – a weekly photo feature hosted by my friend and World Famous Doormaster, Norm Frampton. If you like interesting doors, architecture, and stories from around the world, check out Norm 2.0 and the links to participating bloggers.