Tag Archive | Digital History

Camp 40 (Camp A) – Farnham, Quebec

I whipped this map up for a reader researching his father earlier today and thought I would share. The image shows the layout of the internment Camp at Farnham, Quebec overlaid on some modern satellite imagery from Google.

Camp A, as it was initially known, opened in October 1940 and initially held civilian internees and refugees from the United Kingdom. The camp closed temporarily in January 1942 but reopened in April and was used to hold Enemy Merchant Seamen (EMS). In late 1942, the EMS were transferred to Sherbrooke and replaced by German combatant officers and a smaller number of Other-Ranks, serving as the officers’ servants and orderlies. It once again closed briefly in June 1943 before re-opening again as an officers’ camp in September 1944. The camp then remained open until June 1946.

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Like most of Canada’s internment camps, the buildings were salvaged and torn down, the barbed-wire fences removed, and the guard towers dismantled. Today, the site is occupied by a Water Treatment Station, a gas station and Tim Hortons, and a Fire Station. For those interested, here is a link to the location.

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Mapping PoWs in Canada

Few Canadians realize just how close the Second World War came to home, that from 1939 to 1947, Canada held over 34,000 prisoners of war. While many spent their days in one of twenty-eight internment camps, almost half of them were employed on a labour project by the end of the war.

With some free time at hand, I had a chance to update the map I posted a few weeks earlier. Whereas the former version only showed the locations of internment camps in Canada, this new map includes over 200 of these labour projects scattered across the country.

Internment camps are once again the large red circles while labour projects are shown as smaller orange dots. Light orange dots indicate a single labour project while the darker ones indicate the presence of more than one labour project at that location.

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While this is still a work in progress, it just goes to show the extent of Canadian internment operations during the war (and this does not include Japanese-Canadian internees).

Any camps near you that you did not know about?

Mapping Canada’s Internment Camps

From 1939 to 1947, German Prisoners of War, Enemy Merchant Seamen, and Civilian Internees were held in twenty-eight different locations in Canada. While thousands were eventually employed in small, low-security labour projects, these twenty-eight camps formed the backbone of Canadian internment operations.

As part of my research for my PhD, I am attempting to map all of the PoW internment camps and labour projects in Canada during the Second World War. Having found a series of maps of individual camps and their locations, I was now able to plot the exact locations of each internment camp in the country.

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These clearly show the concentration of internment camps in Southern Alberta, Southern Ontario, and Southern Quebec. While we may like to think of internment camps to be placed in isolated and remote regions of the country, it may come as a surprise to see them so close to Canadian civilian centres. Many of these internment camps were on the boundaries of town or city limits while others, like in Kingston, Sherbrooke, and Mimico, were within them.

While little physical evidence remains today, these sites remind us just how close the Second World War came to home. For a listing of these camps, please click here.

Exploring and Sharing the Past with iGIS

This post is long overdue but better late than never!

About a year-and-a-half ago, I started using iGIS, an iOS app that allows you to visualize geospatial data on your mobile device. My Professor, Josh MacFadyen, had demonstrated the possibilities of this app in our digital history class and I was eager to find ways to apply it to my own research. I had fiddled around with the app outside of class – see my post here – but didn’t have a chance to test it in the field.

In late summer, I finally had a chance to put it to the test. Using maps and aerial photographs I had georeferenced and converted, I uploaded my files to both my iPhone and an iPad and set off. Now the PoW camp I was visiting is somewhat remote – the nearest cellular signal was ten kilometers away and, needless to say, there was no wi-fi. Not sure how the program would work just using the devices’ internal GPS, I pre-loaded the satellite imagery (from Google) – a handy feature when you are in the bush – which would let me compare the historic imagery and maps with what the site looks like today.

An hour by bike and I was at the site. I pulled out my phone and was pleasantly surprised to find that my phone’s internal GPS was accurate enough to show my location. As you can see from the image below, there are only a few signs hinting at the site’s history – all the more reason to find new technologies to fill in the gaps. The rectangular shape to the upper right of my position is the foundation of the camp’s powerhouse.

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Things kept getting better for I discovered that the iPad worked as well – I was surprised for I wasn’t entirely sure that the iPad I was using had an internal GPS to begin with!

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Having thrown in an aerial photograph from 1949 (above) and a forest inventory map from the 1930s (below) and I was in business! Adding a layer to show the physical layout of the camp as it appeared from 1943-1945 helped visualize the site and pinpoint some of the camp’s buildings and locations of interest.

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While this is fantastic for my own research – I was able to identify tree stands cut by PoWs and see how the area has in some cases recovered or in others changed – it has important applications for public history as well. That same week, I led an interpretive PoW wagon tour, taking thirty people out to the site. As part of the tour, we provide visitors with a guidebook listing the buildings and explaining the history. Along with this we include a traditional map showing the layout of the site. While some of the footprints of the former buildings are visible if you look closely, it isn’t always easy to visualize the camp’s layout. However, with me leading a tour with an iPad, visitors were able to see exactly where they were standing in relation to the camp’s layout in the 1940s. Combining this with historic photos of the site and screenshots from my 3D model, visualizing the site became a whole lot easier!

That same week I visited the former PoW camp near Mafeking, Manitoba with the Beranek family, whose father/grandfather worked there in the latter war years. As I had only been to the site once before and was therefore much less familiar with this camp’s history than Riding Mountain, I relied pretty heavily on iGIS and an aerial photo to orient myself. I was also able to add the GPS waypoints I had taken on my handheld GPS the year before, seen as yellow dots in the image below.

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Needles to say, using geospatial data on a mobile device opens up a realm of possibilities for both studying and sharing the past. While my use of the app and sources were fairly basic, I was able to visualize the site’s history, explore areas that I may have otherwise overlooked, and use non-traditional sources to better understand the relationship between history and the environment. Combining this with the ability to allow visitors to interact with landscape in new ways and let them explore on their own terms, I am eager to see how historians can use these technologies in the future.

With a major research trip (and some field work) planned for the summer, you can bet I’ll be bringing iGIS to help me explore and share the history of PoWs in Canada.

Camp 30 – Bowmanville: Then and Now

Following the popularity of my Fort Henry post, I thought I would share a brief look at another important internment camp in Canada – Camp 30 near Bowmanville, Ontario. Approximately seventy-five kilometers east of Toronto, Camp 30 was built around a former boys training school on the outskirts of the town.

Camp 30 opened in November 1941 with a capacity of 700 men. The camp was an Officer Camp, holding officers from all services, but it also held a number of other-ranks to serve as the officers’ orderlies. Notable, Camp 30 was the site of the infamous “Battle of Bowmanville,” in which PoWs refused to be shackled and barricaded themselves inside the camp for three days. The camp closed in April 1945 and the remaining prisoners were transferred to other camps.

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Camp 30 today – Google Satellite Imagery

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Camp 30 in the 1940s. Source: Library and Archives Canada

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Camp 30 – Then and Now

As you can see from these images, many of the camp buildings and other structures have been removed or destroyed since the camp’s closure. Fortunately, there has been some interest in the site in recent years and a growing push for preserving its history.

In 2013, the former site of Camp 30 was designated as a National Historic Site and in the same year, Heritage Canada listed it as one of the Top 10 Endangered Places in the country. While its future is still being decided, I hope that Camp 30, one of the last remaining internment sites in the country, can be preserved for future generations.

Camp 31 – Fort Henry: Then and Now

Of all twenty-eight-or-so internment camps in Canada during the Second World War, I can only think of five that have either changed relatively little or haven’t been completely destroyed (at least from the external appearance) in the last seventy years.

Among these few is Camp 31 (originally Camp F) at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario. Built from 1832 to 1837, the fort was among the first sites chosen to serve as internment camps in the early years of the Second World War. From June 1940 to December 1943, the camp was the temporary home to German combatants (both officers and other-ranks), Enemy Merchant Seamen, and civilian internees.

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Fort Henry today – Bing Aerial Imagery.

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Camp 31 (Fort Henry) in the early 1940s. Source: Library and Archives Canada

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1940s map over aerial imagery. As you can see from the photos, the buildings in the enclosure and compound, the guard towers, and the barbed wire fences around the recreation and lounging areas have been removed.

Juno Beach: Then and Now

To mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, here is one of the projects I have been working on.

Earlier in the year, the Laurier Military History Archive released thousands of aerial photographs taken during the Second World War. Among the collection was a number of photos taking during reconnaissance missions leading up to June 6, 1944. The following series shows Juno Beach as it appeared on June 4, 1944 and how it appears now.

Click on the image to view the full size. If you look closely, you can see some of the German defensive positions and obstacles of the Atlantic Wall. Note that the Archive’s online collection only includes medium-resolution photos so I apologize that I cannot zoom in any closer at the moment.

The first two photographs shows a map of the British and Canadian landing beaches (West to East – Gold, Juno, and Sword). The second photograph shows which Regiments landed at Juno in the early morning of June 6, 1944.

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The following photographs show the Canadian landing zone from West to East.

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The Royal Winnipeg Rifles and a Company of the Canadian Scottish Regiment landed here in the morning of June 6, 1944.

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Courselles-sur-Mer in the middle. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed at the left and the Royal Regina Rifles on the right.

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Bernières-sur-Mer in the middle, the objective of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

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Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern-most part of the Canadian landing beaches and the objective of the North Shore Regiment.

For those who have visited Juno Beach, you may recognize this area. The middle of the two photographs shows the location of the Juno Beach Centre.

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Courselles-sur-Mer. Note the landing obstacles along the coastline in the 1944 photograph.

Thank you to the Laurier Military History Archive for making these images available on the web and allowing researchers to use them!