Forgotten Sites: POW Camps in Ontario

Bill Waiser‘s  recent “Parks Prisoners” article in Canada’s History  examined the role POW camps had in the parks system, with a particular emphasis on the impact of POW labour on the western expansion of Canadian parks.

Waiser’s article got me thinking about the existence of POW camps in Ontario during World War II.  Many of these POW work camps existed in Northern Ontario but there are few formal monuments to the camps and few people know of their existence.

Internment camps in Ontario during World War I:

Camp Location
Dates of Operation
Kapuskasing
1914-1920
Kingston
1914-1917
Niagara Falls
1914-1918
Petawawa
1914-1916
Sault Ste Marie
1915-1918
Toronto
1914-1916

Internment camps in Ontario during World War II:

Camp Location
Dates of Operation
Chatham/Fingal
1944-1946
Gravenhurst
1940-1946
Espanola
1940-1943
Mimico
1940-1944
Monteith
1940-1946
Bowmanville
1941-1946
Kingston/Fort Henry
1939-1943
Petawawa
1939-1946
Neys
1941-1946
Angler
1941-1946

For those interested in learning more about a specific camp Library and Archives Canada has a guide to the history of internment camps in Canada. A map of the camp locations and smaller off site work camps can be seen here.

I was surprised by prevalence of camps in remote communities and the use of POWs in lumbering, farming, road building, construction, and pulp mills. A number of the internment camps were located in Northern remote areas or areas in need of labour for development.

Some of the larger camps — Kingston and Petawawa are well known and seen as historical significant.  The Fort Henry Camp in Kingston is a national historic site for it’s role in the war of 1812 and it’s use as an internment camp.

However, many of the more remote camps have little signage (some do have historical plaques) and aren’t immediately recognizable as historic sites.  Many of the sites have been overtaken by nature with little visual evidence of their nature. Perhaps the desire to forget this aspect of Canada’s past has contributed to the lack of public knowledge around Canadian internment camps and the sparse interpretation of these sites.

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