A History of Canadian Internment Camp R
by Ernest Robert Zimmermann
Michel S. Beaulieu and David K. Ratz
The University of Alberta Press
384 pages $29.95
BY MICHAEL SABOTA
Camp R was a World War II internment camp located near Red Rock, Ontario. It was one of several dozen internment camps that Canada set up to contain prisoners of war (POWs) and other 'undesirables' during the 1940's.
Robert Zimmerman was born in 1931, Cologne, Germany and grew up in wartime Nazi Germany. Following that war, his life path would bring him to Canada and the Lakehead. He was one of the initial faculty members when Lakehead University began, teaching in the department of History. Professor Zimmerman went on to head the department. He died in 2008, have completing all of the work and most of the manuscript for this insightful book.
Following his death, the work of putting the manuscript in final shape was completed by Michel Beaulieu and David Ratz, colleagues of Zimmerman at Lakehead University.
Most of us have an image of what prisoner of war camps looked like, either from documentary footage about Nazi POW camps, or feature films about World War ll, or television situation comedies.
The Little Third Reich on Lake Superior shatters all of those stereotypes and, through diligent assembly of public records, multiple library archives and personal interviews, gives us a in-depth picture of a Canadian internment camp. All of this is skilfully organized in a reader-friendly, chronological way.
Camp R, at Red Rock came into being in 1940 and existed for no more than eighteen months. Nonetheless, at the time, in July 1940, "was the largest civilian interment camp among the fifteen then in operation throughout Canada. The site was chosen because its hutments were readily available to house large numbers of prisoners; it was isolated yet enjoyed easy logistical access by rail; it had an ample water and electricity supply and required only a small investment of funds."
Camp R was what was considered a "mixed camp". It housed enemy merchant seamen and civilian internees, which included Nazis, anti-Nazi Jewish persons and unusual for these camps: the population of 1,150 were men and boys. That mixture would cause obvious problems for the Camp's administration, including physical psychological assaults.
The heart of the book is Zimmerman's steady chronology of what the camp looked like, what it was like living there, why it eventually closed.
Bealieu and Ratz provide a thoughtful introduction that places Camp R in the larger context of Canadian internment camps and the political analysis that brought them into existence.
Concluding chapters provide reasons why the camp closed. There were always problems providing heat in winter, sanitation facilities were never adequate and frequently water was not drinkable on site, though the Officers of the Camp were comfortably accommodated at The Red Rock Inn.
There are extensive notes and historical photographs included in the volume.
Michael Sabota is a Thunder Bay-based writer.