Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seeing the Sights

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to do some exploring in the area south of Riding Mountain National Park. As many of you may be aware, PoWs from the camp in Riding Mountain were known to wonder outside the camp boundaries, in this case marked by red flag or paint or trees. Ten kilometers of bush separated the camp from the park boundaries and a small number of prisoners made good use of their days off to try and figure out what was on the "outside".

By early 1944, the PoWs were familiar with the area and had made contact with some of the locals living on the borders of Riding Mountain National Park. In a number of occasions, these locals, the majority of which were Ukrainian farmers, welcomed the PoWs into their homes as liberators. One has to remember that the Ukraine had suffered severely under Soviet occupation so many Ukrainians viewed the Germans as liberators. This we know now was not the case. Regardless, the PoWs became fast friends with some locals and began attending some of the dances and viewing the local attractions.

Trying to find some of the locations that the PoWs visited is a very interesting experience. It is quite something to imagine PoWs wandering through the fields in the middle of winter or during the night. I have some records of the locations and places visited by the PoWs but trying to find them, or trying to find whether they still exist sixty years later, is not always an easy task. After a fruitless search for one location, we stumbled across this: the Zaporoza school.

Unlike many of the schools that were once scattered throughout rural Manitoba, this building has survived. This was just one of the schools visited by PoWs wandering near the village of Seech, usually on their way to see the Ukrainian Orthodox schools.

It was a teacher at this school that was found in the company of PoWs from Riding Mountain. Her story is featured in Bill Waiser's "A Teacher's Tale". The encounter eventually cost her the teaching position and proved that the prisoners were certainly leaving the boundaries of the Riding Mountain camp.

Anyways, shows that there are still lots of history still hiding around!

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