BY ALANNA BUSO
– Part one of a two-part series
IF YOU take a stroll down the sandy, driftwood covered shores of Neys Provincial Park, a mere 96 kilometres, (60 miles) outside of Terrace Bay, it might seem as if the beautiful landscape is frozen in time, remaining completely unchanged for millennia. However, you might be surprised to learn it wasn’t always a serene family vacation spot.
Before Neys was converted into a “natural environment” provincial park, it was home to up to 500 prisoners of war from 1941 to 1946.
During the Second World War the British government oversaw captured prisoners. First Britain tried to house all of the PoWs but soon realized they were over capacity. They turned to Canada for help in 1940. The Canadian government then found suitable sites and began building camps. Twenty-four areas across the country where selected. Neys was seen as an ideal location, chosen for the dense forest and swampy terrain surrounding it, as well as the beachfront leading onto Lake Superior. This would make tunneling out of the compound impossible. Also, the bright red circle on the uniforms of the prisoners would make escape an extremely difficult and arduous task.
The first prisoners arrived in early 1941, for the most part, mariners of German descent captured by the English Royal Navy. The camp was also home for Japanese Canadians who were interned during the war, but most internees at Neys were German soldiers and sailors.
The German PoWs were classified into three distinct categories based on their assumed risk of escape. The “Whites” were those who had become completely disenchanted with Nazism and rejected Hitler and what he symbolized. Those who did not have a strong political affiliation were designated as the “Greys”. The term “Blacks” was used for those radical prisoners who still held strong political and ideological ties to Nazism. This group went so far as to cause riots in celebration of Hitler’s birthday.
In order to accommodate so many people with different military backgrounds and political affiliations, the camp was constructed on a very simple plan. It included 27 buildings in total, most being used as barracks for the prisoners (separated by classification) while others were used as guard towers and recreational facilities.
Along with the buildings came the implementation of strict honor codes, not just for the prisoners, but also for the guards, so as to prevent mistreatment of the internees. An excerpt from a memo from Camp 100, which addresses the guard’s code of conduct, states:
“Discipline. (4) Use of Force: No force shall be used towards the P.W. excepting only for self-protection or for the protection of another soldier, civilian or P.W., nor shall profane language, indecent, abusive, or insulting language towards the P.W. be used in or about the camp.’”
It was generally recognized that the guards at camp 100 followed this mandate to the letter. This honourable conduct is just one of the reasons why Canada was widely considered as a country that took a higher moral ground when dealing with their PoWs.
NEXT WEEK: the life of a German PoW.
Looking Back is written weekly by one of various writers for the Thunder Bay Museum. For further information visit the museum at 425 Donald St. E., or view its website at www.thunderbaymuseum.com.