Camp 30

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.

Camp 30 - 3
I saw the signs.  I ignored the signs.

 

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.

Camp 30 - 4

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.

Camp 30 - 2

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.

Camp 30 - 6

Why Canada?

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.

Camp 30 - 11

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.

Camp 30 - 10
Boarding up the doors hasn’t stopped the vandals from breaking in

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.

Camp 30 - 12

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.

Camp 30 - 5

Camp 30 - 9

Camp 30 - 7

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.

72 comments

  1. A timely post Joanne. The building and surrounding land seems so haunted (or alive?) with its past, perhaps the lighting of the day had something to do with this, but speak volumes as I flip through your photos. Honoring my husband, son, and family members this weekend who are or have served.

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      • I am lucky none of my current family members never saw anything like this, but the next generations above us did. I believe they all did. And they deserve so much honor for the sacrifices they made for our freedoms.

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        • Even from a very young age, I was curious about my mom’s life before she came to Canada – especially those horrible 5 years in an occupied country. I couldn’t then – and still can’t – wrap my head around how difficult and terrifying those years must have been.

          In the last couple of years of her life, my mom often slid into a kind of dementia and during those periods her mind would take her back to those awful years. It was heartbreaking for us to experience her terrors. It was so sad that in spite of surviving the war so many years ago, she died reliving the horror in her mind.

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  2. Thanks for ignoring those signs, Joanne, it’s a great find. Pity there is such a lack of funding for those historical sites. Makes sense that the ‘cream’ of the enemy military would be placed as far away from Europe as possible.

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  3. Wow! I had not heard of that piece of history. Thank you for sharing it. I hope they are able to preserve the buildings. It’s such a shame that people feel the needs to vandalize property.

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  4. Another interesting bit of history! I just had to find out more about POW’s! Found this in the Canadian Encyclopedia: “More than 34,000 combatant German POWs were held in Canada during the Second World War. The camps in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge were the largest in North America… all combatant prisoners were held in Canada under the supervision of the British government. Most were returned to partitioned Germany following the war. However, over the years many immigrated back to Canada … to show their relatives how well they were treated by their Canadian captors. ”

    I already knew a bit about the more than 20,000 Japanese Canadian civilians who were also either interned during the war, or removed from their homes on the Pacific coast and housed in rudimentary settlements in more isolated areas (many of them here in Alberta.) My Japanese son-in-law’s family lost their business, home and their former life when they were removed from Vancouver Island and sent to southern Alberta.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margy – your comments about Japanese internment is a piece of our shameful history. I’m aware of it but don’t have your personal connection to it.

      On the flip side, the kind treatment of German POWs is in direct contrast to the internment camps and appropriation of property.

      While I’m so proud of our kindnesses, I’m ashamed of the other side of the story.

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      • Anti-Asian prejudice. Not one of Canada’s finest moments. I asked my son-in-law’s dad about how he and his family felt about it all. He said they were treated kindly in the community they were forced to move to. After the war, they had no desire to move back to Japan. They were Canadians, and were unhappy about what Japan had done. They worked hard, built a new life here in Alberta and life went on.

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  5. Great post (with good reason). I hope they find the money to preserve it. I think preserving some of these places is essential to remembrance. It’s easy to see how your mind would start drifting through time walking through a place like this.

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    • I didn’t always think that it was important to preserve these places for remembrance.

      Several years ago Gilles and I went to Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. I didn’t want to go because I felt it bordered on voyeurism while Gilles argued that it was important to remember and that the maintenance of these historical sites is critical.

      I now agree. Visiting these places allow us to touch the past – to connect with it in a way that is real and tangible.

      I too hope this piece of history is preserved. It’s important for future generations to know.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting glimpse into history. I didn’t know that POWs ended up in Canada, but there’s a logic there. Your photos are evocative of the sadness of war and the sadness of abandoned buildings. Well done.

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  7. My history teacher in junior high was Canadian, and he incorporated Canada’s role in WWII in one of his lesson plans. Somewhere on one of the 3×5 files that I imagine I have in my brain, there definitely is a mention of the POW camps in Canada. I somehow knew about them, and it had to have been from one of Mr. Sutherland lessons. It’s sad how decrepit they’ve allowed the place to become. I agree with you that any renovation of it will be hugely expensive. – Marty

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  8. What fun to see this post in my reader! Seeing these buildings in the shape they are in makes me so sad. The property on which they sit is such a beautiful one & I fear the likelihood of these buildings being restored will be too costly. I suspect at some point they will all be torn down & another development of some sort will pop up in their place. Sigh….

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    • I’m hoping that the Heritage Site designation will prevent a housing development from happening, but it could be a stretch to restore these buildings. The price tag will be huge 😕

      thanks so much for introducing me to this site. I would never have otherwise known it existed. Such a shame. It deserves to be known.

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  9. It’s an interesting building with such a unique history. I’m glad it was saved but hope it ends up restored before its too late. I never knew that enemy soldiers were shipped across the ocean. Doesn’t sound like they had it too bad. Fascinating post. Joanne.

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    • I agree! If only the walls could share their secrets! I did find a few stories online – I don’t know how accurate they are – but one told of how the POWs were well treated and had few complaints. One ‘complaint’ being that because the buildings were originally built for boys, the bathroom facilities were ‘short’ 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I learned something new today, but it shouldn’t surprise me, after all we once sent our prisoners to serve out their sentence in Australia. I am shocked at the vandalism though. What kind of people do this damage? I’m not sure I would want to live in that housing development close by.

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  11. Joanne, this is a wonderful post. Your narrative made me feel like I was there.
    The setting is lovely, and I spotted some traces of parts of the facility that must have once been charming. I’d much rather imagine it as a busy school for boys as a prison camp.
    The overseas transfer of the POWs was smart thinking, considering a 3 day battle for the camp. If they had been in England the prisoners would have been closer to contacts and had more support to succeed.
    Hugs.

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    • Teagan, I’ve been reading the most incredible stories about the relationship between the Canadian guards and the German POWs. This was a most unusual situation.

      Apparently, if the POWs gave their “word of honour” that they wouldn’t try to escape, they were given permission to leave the camp to go swimming in the lake in the summer or go cross country skiing in the winter … and they would always return!

      The 3 day battle was actually triggered by something Hitler did which is a rather long story, but when the POWs barricaded themselves in protest arming themselves with anything they could use, the guards removed the bullets from their rifles to ‘level the playing field’ so no one would get hurt. In the end, the guards prevailed by using fire hoses. Soaking the prisoners in the chill of October in Canada was a clever strategy.
      The only serious injury appeared to be one guard who suffered a fractured skull when he was hit in the head by a flying jar of jam.

      The moral of the story seems to be that when you treat people well, unusual and sometimes wonderful things happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. That was really interesting to read Joanne. My German father-in-law was a POW in Texas. His unit was so happy to be captured by the Americans rather than the Russians. He was on kitchen duty. Maybe that is why he always cooked Sunday dinner.

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  13. I so like that your Remembrance Day posts are focusing on forgotten histories Joanne, and on the connections of small communities and civilians.

    You have reminded me that NZ also had a POW camp, although it may seem a little more likely as it housed Japanese POWs captured in the Pacific. A terrible incident there in 1943 led to the deaths of 48 of the prisoners and a guard in a “riot.” It was hushed up to prevent Japanese reprisals against NZ POWs, but in recent years, researchers have revealed a truer picture and some reconciliation between NZ and Japan has occurred.

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  14. This is definitely not a ‘pretty’ Thursday Doors but definitely one we should never forget. If it is going to be a National Heritage Site, I hope they start soon on at least closing it up so the vandals can’t do more damage. Interesting to hear these historic stories about the pain and loss of WWII and then read today’s news and see the pain and loss continues only on smaller, different fronts. I’m not sure we’re learning much as we progress, and that makes me sad. However, on the 11th, I will applaud all those who have served on our behalf and pray for all the families who lost loved ones. Thank you for this heartfelt reminder.

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  15. When seeing these buildings, it does not show its history. Whoa, your story throws me back into the severity of World War II, but one we do not want to forget! That a POW camp may never be needed again (although I doubt it). Thank you for enlightening me, Joanna.

    By the way, your comment about my post C’est Si Bon blew me away, but I read it, right after I got up in the morning and not fully awake to it significance yet. Have hardly the words to describe my thankfulness of you zeroeing in right on the heart of that subject!!

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    • Unfortunately war seems to be a constant in the life span of mankind. We are a violent species 😕

      We throw our words and images out into the world, but we never really know how they are going to be interpreted or perhaps serve as inspiration for others. It works the other way too. Somethings the words and images of others act as an AHA moment – and that was your post for me.

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  16. I remember reading a bit about Canada’s POW camps when we visited the War Museum in Ottawa a few years ago. I had no idea there was so many of them: close to 40 I believe. It’s fascinating stuff that doesn’t get talked about at all anymore. I think you’re about to send me down another research rabbit hole 🙂
    In the meantime it’ll be interesting to see what they do with the site and how much of our $$$ will be spent on this.
    Great post!

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  17. It looks like it was once a lovely facility with all the brick, and art decoish accents. It’s sad to see it in this state. I hope it’s restored and used for something neat.

    The history is very interesting. We have a Japanese POW camp here in Calif. that I’ve passed many times, but haven’t ever toured. One day I’ll have to change that.

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    • Yay – I’m glad someone noticed those art deco-ish accents along the top of the outside walls. I too think this was likely a beautiful site at one time. I’d like to see that beauty restored someday.

      You’re the 2nd person who mentioned the Japanese POW camp. You definitely need to go!

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  18. I admire people who ignore No Trespassing signs, as long as all they want to do is take pictures, or something else harmless. This looks like an important piece of WWII history.

    I once attended school at a former Japanese POW camp, in the mountains of southern California. It gave my imagination a lot to play with, wondering what it was like back when prisoners lived there.

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    • I pick and choose when I will ignore a No Trespassing sign – like when there is no one around and the only purpose is to take outdoor photos.

      I am very reluctant to trespass when there are other people trespassing. There is always the risk that at least one jerk in that crowd will end up doing something stupid that makes all of us look bad. No thank you!

      If your imagination runs wild when you’re in a place like the former Japanese POW camp, then I would say that you too ‘see ghosts’ 🙂

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  19. You never cease to amaze me my friend!! As you know,
    I lived in Oshawa next door to Bowmanville for years and did not know bout this POW camp.
    Keep the blogs and history lessons coming Joanne. X

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    • I’m not surprised, Barb. There was nothing to indicate what this property once was. Quite frankly, even driving down the road, you might not really pay much attention to the buildings. They are recessed back from the road and largely hidden by trees.
      Apparently there is supposed to be a historical plaque installed at some point.

      These little bits of history are so interesting! I love this stuff!

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  20. The yellow table – all bent in – at the end was a nice closing image – so it has been sitting idle for ten years? I wonder what is in store – it might have lots of mold and Decay and need to be torn down
    Oh and thanks for the history info

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    • The history of this facility really made me sad because even now, I can see that it was likely a lovely property.
      This will not be an easy undertaking but I hope they are successful in restoring the buildings and telling their stories. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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    • I don’t understand the need some people have to destroy property. I found all that graffiti really disturbing.

      Five years seem like a long time, but I appreciate the planning, research, fund raising etc that goes into projects like this. I suspect 5 years isn’t all that long in the timeline but in the meantime, the deterioration continues 😕

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