For a fascinating day next year, sign up for one of two Whitewater Prisoner of War Camp Horse-Drawn Wagon Tours organized by Friends of Riding Mountain National Park.
To begin, each participant is arm banded with a strip of red cloth, denoting that they have become German prisoners of war. An appropriately costumed sergeant, with a deactivated rifle at his side, calls out names and people are assigned to one of four horse-drawn wagons for the 10-km trip toWhitewater Lake.
Before we headed out, a guide in period garb climbed aboard each covered wagon to narrate the many stories of the Whitewater Prisoner of War (POW) Camp. During the Second World War, at a cost of $200,000, a POW camp was constructed on the edge of Whitewater Lake within the boundaries of RMNP one of many labour camps across Canada. When a firewood shortage was experienced in 1942-43, this workforce was set in motion, and 10,000 cords of wood were cut, not far from Lake Audy. The camp was comprised of bunkhouses, an administration building, a guardhouse, kitchen and mess hall, hospital, recreation hall, a barn and stables, a garage, blacksmith shop and kitchen staff quarters.
The in character guides (volunteers and RMNP employees) told many fascinating stories of that time, and when the wagons arrived at the site of the former camp, now largely reclaimed by nature and evident only by a few crumbling foundations, everyone was treated to a hearty lunch. Similar to what the POWs and guards would have enjoyed, we ate sauerbraten- on-a-bun, fresh garden vegetables with German-style cottage cheese (flavoured with garlic, dill, onion, celery seed and caraway), and a dessert called Plumi Moos made from a variety of dried fruits, stewed and thickened.
While the horses rested and grazed, we were all given a quick lesson on how to use GPS units, which had been pre-programmed to help us tour the site. For half an hour we guided ourselves around the area, learning about the various buildings with the assistance of an information booklet prepared by Michael O Hagan, an employee of Friends of RMNP and history graduate from the University of Manitoba, who also guided us through the woods to see the remnants of several dugout canoes.
We also learned about the past several years of archeological and historical research that has taken place at the site of the camp. The unearthed artifacts, mostly found in what were the camp refuse heaps, helped to piece together the men s experiences as prisoners of war. Several tins with a Nazi insignia were found, having contained chocolates sent by the German Red Cross. Some of the items were surprising, like the plethora of personal hygiene items, such as aftershave, hair products and Pond s Cold Cream! This past summer, archeology students unearthed a canine skull, probably the remains of one of the camp s pet dogs, and many other bones, largely pork.
To learn more about this piece of RMNP s history, contact Friends of RMNP and put your name on the list for next year s tours by phoning 1-204-848-4037 or emailing friends. [email protected]
You can also check out the Whitewater POW Camp Archeology Project at http://www.white waterpowcamp.com.
Candy Irwin writes from Lake Audy, Manitoba