From the Gravenhurst Archives:
Gravenhurst was the site of a prisoner of war (POW) camp from 1940 until internee repatriation in late 1946.
As the war went on, it was decided to use Camp 20 to imprison hardline Nazi German officers in this location. It proved to make this camp unique from other POW camps in Canada, where there was a mix of commitment to Nazi ideals, and often, many more prisoners in the camp. At other POW camps, violence and murders took place among the POWs, with hardliners attacking moderates.
South of the border, there was a tranche of Americans who were Nazi sympathizers, so measures had to be taken at all POW camps, including Camp 20 in Gravenhurst, to prevent ‘liberation’ of POW interns by Nazi ideologues in the U.S.A.
Camp 20 had been a former TB Sanatorium on Lake Muskoka. German POW interns were allowed to use personal funds to purchase many things, including fresh food, books and other items. Officers were allowed to leave the camp as long as they signed a ‘parole’ paper swearing they would return. As a result, they would regularly be seen in town.
It was an idyllic setting and POW interns made the most of it, eventually creating large, productive gardens on nearby farm property that they leased. They built barns and other buildings, acquired work horses and pets, and were so successful in their farm venture that they were producing much of the fresh food they needed by the end of the war.
Why were German army, navy and air force prisoners of war consigned to Canada to spend the remainder of the war? Humphries pointed out that a POW population imprisoned in Great Britain could become a reinforcing alien army, in the event of a successful invasion of Great Britain by German forces. And, Britain barely had enough food to feed its own people during the war.
When Camp 20 was emptied and wound down, a group of Canadian business owners of the Jewish faith purchased it and created a hotel for Jewish families of that era who may have been refused accommodation at other local hotels. The ironies involved resonate.
First World War veterans from Orillia and vicinity, including Rama First Nation, joined the Veterans Guard of Canada to serve as Officers and Guardsmen at POW camps. If you have any information, stories or photos about anyone who may have served in the Vets Guard during the Second World War, please contact OMAH.