How thousands of Norwegian sailors 'made quite a stir' in this seaside town
Camp Norway was a military training base in Lunenburg, N.S., during the Second World War
A Nova Scotia town's unlikely role as a haven for thousands of Norwegian soldiers during the Second World War is being remembered by their descendents in a new video project.
The Camp Norway Project tells the story of 2,000 servicemen who over the years found shelter in Lunenburg after Norway was invaded by Nazis. The first to arrive in 1940 were the whaling ships, pursued by German U-boats hungry for oil they carried.
"They came to town but they didn't have anywhere to go at first," said Lunenburg resident Freda Martin, whose dad was one of the sailors. "They had to stay on the ships that they came in on until they built Camp Norway."
The waterfront training facility on Tannery Road housed sailors who threw parties on Saturday nights and received impressionable young sea cadets as visitors.
These stories have been collected for the first time in a video project by the South Shore Genealogical Society and Blue Dory Productions.
Epic parties at the camp
Martin, one of 14 people interviewed for the project, has been hearing stories about Camp Norway since she was a kid.
"It was really exciting for me, really exciting," she said of the chance to be interviewed about her family's history.
Clyde Conrad was 12 years old when he visited the base as a sea cadet. He remembers only being shown the dining room, even though the plan had been to tour the barracks.
"But on a Saturday night it's a night that you don't take on invitations, not with Norwegians," he said with a chuckle. "They liked to party, and they were partying Saturday night."
Camp Norway is an important part of the history of the South Shore, said Cheryl Lamerson, president of the South Shore Genealogical Society, because it's proof the war effort happened right on Canadian soil, not just overseas.
"People took them into their homes, invited them for dinner. This was Lunenburg at its best, welcoming these people," she said.
Having a military training camp in a small town also meant a huge influx of eligible young bachelors.
"They made quite a stir," said Lamerson.
But what sticks out to her from the hours of interviews she's watched are the stories of struggle.
"For five years, many of them didn't know how their families were at home, they didn't know if their homes were even there," she said.
Many of the Norwegians stayed in Nova Scotia for decades after the war because they simply didn't have the money to return home.
But others stayed, or returned years later, because they'd fallen in love. That was the case for Martin's parents. Her dad returned to Norway after the war, but 11 years later made his way back to Canada and married her mom.
Martin has visited Norway a couple times, and even ran into a fellow Lunenburger during her first trip there.
"It's very important, very important, and my children, I've always talked to them about where their grandfather came from and just things I feel they should know," she said.