POWs in Canada


From 1940 to 1947, Canada was home to over 33,000 German Prisoners of War (POWs). Whether their aircraft had been shot down in the Battle of Britain, their ships sunk in the cold Atlantic water, or they were captured shortly after the D-Day landings, these German soldiers spent a significant portion of their wartime career on Canadian soil.

With the first POWs arriving in Canada in mid-1940, Canadian internment officials were faced with the question of where to intern these former combatants. The first solution was to convert a number of pre-existing buildings or locations that could be quickly turned into improvised internment camps. These institutions, however, were insufficient as the British sent increasing numbers of PoWs to Canada.

With 4,000 POWs in Canada by 1942, Canadian internment officials turned to the construction of new, dedicated internment facilities. While a number of these new camps were constructed, the largest of which were located in Alberta. Medicine Hat’s Camp 132 and Lethbridge’s Camp 133 both had a capacity of over 12,000 PoWs, meaning that over half of the POWs interned in Canada were held in these two camps.

Camp 42 near Sherbrooke, Quebec in November 1945. Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-114463

With the war’s end in 1945, the camps had served their purpose and within a few years, most of them had either been dismantled or converted to more useful facilities. Today, despite the relatively large number of POWs interned in the country, few signs of Canada’s internment camps remain.

Internment Camps vs. Labour Projects

An internment camp, or POW camp, was specifically designed to intern POW for the duration of the war. These were usually larger facilities designed to accommodate large numbers of POWs and were generally enclosed with barbed wire fences and guard towers and were guarded. For a list of POW Camps in Canada, please click here.

Labour Projects, of which there were considerably more, were smaller, generally isolated camps designed to make use of POW labour. Over 200 of these projects were scattered across the country, stretching from British Columbia to Quebec. Employing POWs primarily in the agricultural and lumbering industries, these projects were usually operated by civilian companies which, in turn, provided them with their own names and  numbers.

For more information about these projects, please click here.

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