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Canadian Internment Camps

photo of prisoners of the petawawa internment camp

Camp 33 - Petawawa
In December 1914 a Prisoner of War (POW) Internment Camp opened at Camp Petawawa housing 750 German, Austrian and Italian POWs. They occupied various buildings used by the militia in times of peace and were employed in road cutting, timber felling and ground clearing. The Internment Camp closed in May 1916.

WW II – 1939-1945
Following the outbreak of WW II, approximately 40 POW/Internment camps opened across Canada, from New Brunswick to British Columbia, including several throughout Ontario and Quebec. The camps were identified by numbers; the camp at Petawawa was known as Camp 33, located on the Petawawa Forestry Reserve. Two temporary camps were also set up - one in Old Fort Henry, Kingston, ON and the other in the Citadel, Quebec City. Most of those interned in the Canadian camps comprised three ethnic groups – Germans, Italians and Japanese.

Exile took two forms – relocation centers for families and relatively well-off individuals who were considered a low security threat; and the POW/Internment camps for single men, the less well-off and those deemed to be a security risk. Whole families lived in some camps until the end of the war when the camps were closed and the inhabitants released. Approximately 850 German Canadians were accused of being spies for the Nazis, as well as subversives and saboteurs.

By mid December 1939, all enemy aliens from Canada’s East Coast along with those interned at both temporary camps at Quebec City and Kingston, were transferred to Camp 33 at Petawawa. The internees from the Citadel travelled by train, while the 150 at Fort Henry were transported by two motor bus convoys under armed guard, assisted by OPP Motorcycle Patrols. Also, in June 1941, 756 German sailors, most of whom had been captured in East Asia were sent from the Indian camps to Canada, some ending up in Camp 33. It should be noted that Camp 33 was strictly an all male camp, no families or females were held at this location.

Many German Canadians interned at Camp 33 had immigrated to the Upper Ottawa Valley in 1876, arriving approximately one year after a Polish migration took up residence in Wilno. Their hamlet, consisting primarily of farmers, was called Germanicus, located less than 10 miles from Eganville. Their farms were expropriated by the federal government with no compensation whatsoever and they were imprisoned behind barbed wire in the camp. The Foymount Air Force Base near Eganville was built on this expropriated land. Even though none of these immigrant homesteaders of 1876 had ever gone back to visit Germany after their arrival, nor had their children or grandchildren, they were accused of being German Nazi agents.

From September 1939–July 1942 Camp 33 housed 645 German and Italian civilian internees. On September 16, 1940 Ernest L. Maag of the International Red Cross made an inspection visit to Camp 33 to determine the quality of the living/working conditions and that the protocols of the Geneva Convention were being upheld. In May 1942 an additional 292 Japanese internees were transferred from BC, bringing the Camp total to 718. By August 1942 all civilian internees were transferred to other camps where they remained until released in February 1944.

Work was provided for the internees such as road building, forest clearing, wood cutting and beautification of the grounds for which they received 20 cents per day. Few civilian internees attempted to escape; however, the POW merchant seamen were not as content to remain at Camp 33 and a number of escapes were recorded, but all escapees were eventually captured. German officers and other ranks were interned at Petawawa until Camp 33 closed on March 6, 1946.

It is estimated that throughout the war years Canadian Internment Camps housed a total of over 34,000-35,000 internees and POWs.

Written By: 
Dianne MacKinnon