Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On this day, 68 Years Ago - Riding Mountain Park Project

October 26, 1943
Dauphin, Manitoba

A train with a rather unusal cargo was stopped on the outskirts of Dauphin just before noon. Immediately following the train's halt, armed guards disembarked, establishing a secure permititer on all sides of the train while empty trucks idled nearby. Once the area had been deemed safe, the doors to the train were opened from the inside and a guard armed only with a "billy" club exited. Following him were among the first German combatants, prisoners of war, to step foot on Manitoba soil. 

To be precise, 440 of these enemy soldiers, many of whom were combat veterans of North Africa, were seated in this train. After being quickly unloaded from the trains and ushered aboard the waiting trucks, the PoWs entered Riding Mountain National Park via the Strathlair Road. The trucks continued down this road, until reaching a recently rebuilt spur road heading West. Following this for ten kilometers, these men arrived at what would be their new home.

First proposed in June 1943, the camp had been hastily constructed over the past months. In total, fifteen buildings were constructed on the Northeast shore of Whitewater Lake, prompting the Dauphin Herald to report that this camp was the largest PoW camp built for woodcutting operations in Canada. The buildings included six bunkhouses for the PoW, a bunkhouse for the kitchen staff, a bunkhouse for the administrative staff, an administration building, a cookhouse large enough to accommodate the camp, a recreation hall, a barn, and a garage. Estimated at costing $225,000, the camp’s facilities had its own generator to supply electricity, a sewage system, running water, and a telephone line specifically established to maintain direct contact between the camp and Dauphin.

As for what the PoWs were thinking when they first stepped off the trucks, one can only assume that they never could have imagined what lay before them...

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