Thursday, January 26, 2012

Leaving the Camp... Again...

Sixty-Eight Years Ago

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For those who are familiar with the stories from the camp in Riding Mountain National Park, you will certainly have heard how PoWs left the camp boundaries, visited dances, and became good friends with people on the park boundaries. Today, I'll give a brief explanation of how this came to be.

When the decision to build a camp in the park was first made in the summer of 1943, the issue of security was first and foremost to many. How to ensure that the PoWs remained with the camp boundaries and away from summer tourist traffic was something that the Parks Bureau especially focused on. It was eventually decided that the ten kilometers of Canadian wilderness surrounding the camp should be enough to keep wandering PoWs away from civilians. As such, trees were marked with red paint or flags to clearly mark the boundaries.

Despite the efforts taken by various departments and officials, they simply did not work. As I have already mentioned, only five days after arriving at the camp, nineteen PoWs had left the camp boundaries and had gotten lost. Other accounts of PoWs getting "lost" were fairly common and it seems like the warnings were simply ignored by a sizeable number of PoWs.

Among these PoWs was Konstatin Schwarz (or Schwartz). Using his days off at Christmas and New Years, he and some of his comrades decided to see what lay beyond the confines of the camp's borders. Following old logging trails, roads, and tracks, the PoWs found their way to places like the bison enclosure at Lake Audy and a firetower on the southern border of the park. It was this firetower that they were finally able to view the surrounding area. Much to their surprise, the area was primarily farmland.

It was upon viewing the farmhouses that the PoWs decided they needed to take a closer look...

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