CBC Digital Archives

PoWs: Both sides of the wire

While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners during the Second World War. With Britain fearful of a possible invasion, more than 37,000 of their PoWs were transported to remote camps across Canada. Over a seven-year period the prisoners basked in a unique brand of Canadian hospitality, enjoying a lifestyle that convinced some to eventually call Canada home. CBC Archives takes a look back at the reality of life behind the Canadian barbed wire.

media clip
With xenophobia running high in the early days of the war, Britain found itself burdened with Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany. Questioning their loyalty, the British deemed thousands of these refugees "dangerous enemy aliens" and placed them in internment camps across England.

In 1940 hundreds of these refugees were transferred from England to a PoW camp in New Brunswick, where they were forced to live side by side with Nazi soldiers. This CBC Television clip explores the story behind this unfortunate incident that one survivor calls "Canada's footnote to the Holocaust." 
• PoW Camp 70 (or Camp "B") was established on Aug. 13, 1940, in Ripples, N.B., about 20 kilometres outside Fredericton. Originally intended for Canadian internees of German and Italian descent, it was transformed into a German PoW camp shortly after.
• Late in 1940 the first of several boatloads of Jewish refugees was relocated from Britain to Canadian camps. One group, which included students, professors, businessmen, priests and rabbis, arrived unexpectedly at the Ripples camp.

• After fleeing Hitler's Germany more than a year before, these refugees were greeted by the jeers and catcalls of the German PoWs.
• As Rabbi Erwin Schild recalls in this clip, Nazi soldiers sang anti-Semitic songs to welcome them. "We were scared to the very bottom of our boots," says Schild.
• After the pleadings of the refugees a fence was erected in between the two factions inside the camp.

• The refugees spent the better part of three years at the camp, where they took part in paid labour outings. They also set up a thriving cultural life behind the barbed wire.
• Thanks to their diverse backgrounds, the refugees established schools, orchestras and even a café which was run by a former chef from London's Savoy Hotel.

• While Canada had an official policy to restrict any wartime refugees from entering the country, in 1943 Ottawa relented and freed the refugees. While some eventually returned to Europe after the war, many remained in Canada.
• The sole camp in eastern Canada, the Ripples camp was all but covered up by the provincial government and federal officials.

• All of the camps were officially clandestine, with wartime censors covering up most evidence of them in the press. Occasionally stories of escapes would leak out to the national media, but any stories had to be passed through the censors before they were published or broadcast.
• A 1988 book and subsequent documentary on the Ripples camp helped shine light on this bizarre chapter in Canada's wartime history.

• To learn more about what became of the Ripples PoW Camp, please visit "The remains of Camp 70."
Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Sept. 27, 1993
Guest(s): Neal Livingstone, Erwin Schild
Host: Kevin Newman
Duration: 5:11

Last updated: April 23, 2013

Page consulted on September 25, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

John Diefenbaker: extra clips

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps

While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners...

John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Leaders' Debates 1968-2011: Highlights

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televis...

Life after Auschwitz

Six decades after Auschwitz was liberated, the biggest and most brutal Nazi death camp remains...

Marc Garneau: Canadian Space Pioneer

His bravery is inspiring, his grace is charming and his credentials are out of this world. In ...