Comments by Ren L'Ecuyer - Like so many others, I had a tour at what was then called RCAF Station Armstrong (1965-1967). Unlike many others, I was not much of an outdoors person - so I suspect that I probably missed out on many recreational opportunities that were available in the Armstrong area.
I have been operating the Pinetree Line web site since 15 January 1998, but I have only recently (June 2001) found myself trying to make "heads or tails" about ongoing stories pertaining to a supposed "German POW camp" in the Armstrong area - that subsequently (between 1954 and 1974) served as a fishing camp for USAF and RCAF military personnel. In typical fashion, I sent an email message to about 175 people that indicated they had served at Armstrong at one time or other. I sent email messages to fishing camps (in the Armstrong area) that are currently active on the Internet, and heck - I even made a long distance telephone call to the OPP Detachment in Armstrong - all to try and get (as Jack Webb would have said) "the facts, just the facts".
Are there any facts? Time has a habit of playing games with our memories. We know one thing - and that is "there were a number of fishing camps" and similar type recreational facilities. Search and Rescue had their cabins and camps. RCAF personnel spent many nights at MacKenzie Lake - and suffice it to say that there were, over the years, a number of other locations that served the fisherman and/or moose hunter.
We have learned that there were, indeed, a number of German POW camps scattered all across Canada during the war. These camps were not your typical "Hogan's Heros" type of thing, and they were usually associated with the logging industry. We have been fortunate to locate detail on such a camp located at "Lake of the Woods" - and it is safe to assume that most of the camps, including the one(s) in the vicinity of Armstrong would have functioned in a similar manner.
We all seem to agree on one thing however - there could only be one location that fit the general description of the buildings - as depicted below - and it is safe to assume that there was only one location that included the "large floor to ceiling fireplace", as seen in the photos.
So there you have it folks. I have gone through a number of responses to my email message for assistance, and added those that appear to have factual detail to this article. We thank everyone that participated in this project, and it is safe to assume that additional detail and/or photos will show up with the passing of time.
Comments by Clary Jollimore (1972-1973) – I was at Armstrong between 1972 and 1973, and the camp did exist. I know because I was there on more than one occasion, For the life of me I cannot remember how I got there, but it strikes me it was by road. This camp was being used by hunters and fisherman on a random basis. There was a main lodge in usable condition which had a natural rock fireplace from floor to ceiling, supposedly built by the POW's. There were some things which had been painted such as the Roundel and other military images on the face, but there as no German insignia that I can remember. The fireplace was the most impressive feature of the whole place. There were two other buildings in very poor condition but unusable. The place was falling apart and there had been no attempt by any military effort to restore anything while I was in Armstrong. Also, it occurs to me there was another POW camp east of Armstrong, this one was south of Armstrong if memory serves me right, and the second one was only accessible by water.
Comments by Art Noonan (1967-1968) - The Lake was Bacheje. I'm not positive about that spelling but it was pronounced Baa-see-gee. I have compared the photos from 1956 with my memories and am sure that what is referred to as a POW camp in those photos is on the same lake that I am referring to. In picture 7 of the 1956 group (see below) there is a distinctive hill in the upper right hand corner that identifies this as Lake Bacheje as I remember it. Also the chimney on the building in picture 5 of the 1956 group (see below) is distinctive as well (the top of the large stone fireplace shown in the picture I had sent). To get to the lake, one went south on the main road to Hurkett about 20 miles. From there, the only way into the camp was by boat and a number of them were left there for that purpose. It probably took about 30-45 minutes by road and then another 15 over water. There are remnants of a bridge in the 1956 photos that certainly weren't there in my time. I can't for the life of me figure out where that bridge ran to unless it was more like a dock versus a bridge, because there were no roads anywhere near the camp. In my time there were 3 buildings and they were in pretty good repair. I vaguely remember the remnants of other buildings and there is an old boat in the 1956 photos that rings a very hazy bell. In the days of the Americans it was said that they actually placed staff there in the summer to support "VIP" fishing excursions as we did later in places like Goose Bay and there was supposed to have been a sizable generator there as well although it was long gone by my time. The story was that the Americans had offered to leave the generator behind if they could have unlimited access to the camp but that was turned down by the Canadians when they took over the site. Whether or not that was true is anyone's guess. As I said, there were three buildings left with the larger one containing the large fireplace being referred to as the main building. From time to time they were referred to as "Officer", "Senior NCO" and "Junior NCO" buildings, although when one was out there it was first come first served and there was certainly no rank differentiation. The buildings were all relatively well maintained and I'm not sure who was responsible for the upkeep except that it was probably on a self help basis. The property certainly was not abandoned. It was being looked after by folks from the station although like I say probably on a self help basis.
Comments by Fred Sullivan (1967-1968) – To the best of my knowledge this was in reality a genuine German POW camp for both Officers and enlisted POWs. The camp was used on many occasions by RCAF military personnel for both fishing and moose hunting. The pictures from 1968, as provided below, do indeed portray the camp as I remember it to be. The Armstrong ON travel info, Map #1 (on this web site) can be used to locate the camp, which was just to the north of the Gull Bay area of Lake Nipigon. The camp was located on the left hand side of the river at the right hand bend, between the two small lakes north of Gull Bay. We used to have one of the MSE operators on every trip. That way we were sure of getting a stake truck from MSE to transport the boats/motors (from the Airman's and Sgt's Messes and occasionally even the Officer's Mess, when we had Lt. Noonan with us). The trip from the base to the boat landing took approximately 45 to 60 minutes and then after all the food and personnel were loaded aboard it took another 15-20 minutes to arrive at the "camp". The property was used by the military and any maintenance that was done was from "scrounged" items (paint/plywood/2 by 4s/nails) from the destruction compound. Actually to tell the truth Supply and CE were very cooperative and any items we needed somehow or other were always sent to the compound the day we were to leave and stacked neatly so we would lose little time loading everything onto the stake truck. There were many more buildings in the area at one time but only the three buildings you see in the 1968 photos remained during my tour at Armstrong. The center building was the one used by us "fishermen", while the one on the right was always referred to as the "German Officer's Mess". This building had a very distinctive fireplace. The fireplace sent most of the heat directly up the chimney and very little was distributed through the room. As we were all aware of this, we made use of the centre building as our living accommodations. The building on the left was left unused and was in a deteriorated condition. Maintenance was done, but mostly on an as required basis, only on the centre building (that we made use of) while I was there. The condition of the buildings was very good for the age of the structures (in excess of 20 years). Apparently when the Americans ran the camp it was equipped with an APU which ran the refrigerator, electric range, fridge, electric lights and freezer for those using the camp. When we Canadians took over the radar station at Armstrong the Canadian government was unwilling to pay the (as I was told $10,000.00 requested) for the fully equipped camp, boats and motors and therefore the Americans removed the APU, fridge, stove and freezer and cut all the electrical wiring and along with the boats and motors were taken to the military dump and everything was destroyed (by bulldozer) then buried.
Comments by Pierre Parent (1964-1965) – I contacted a friend who more or less filled me in on a few details. His information is that there were no "Formal" POW camps with guards and barbed wires and all. He suggests that the only approach in existence was to shuffle these prisoners to an area in Northern Ontario and the arrangement was that they would cut wood and get paid in return. Since there was no way for them to escape, the prisoners had little choice. He further suggests that these "Camps" were provided on skids by forestry companies and when the area was all cut down, they would move the buildings to the next place and start over. An idea he came up with may be to contact the Ontario Forestry and ask information from them. In those days, they had to be in direct control of all tree cutting operations and they would know specifically what did or did not exist in the area during those days. He did come up with the name of a fellow who has lived all his life in Armstrong who used to fly in and out of there as his livelihood. I looked up his address and found H Evans (Harry) 273 King street Armstrong Station Ontario. P0T 1A0 Phone 807-583-2892. Since this is the only name listed in the book, I might suggest that this may be the fellow or his descendants. He apparently knows all there is to know about what went on in the area and has tons of pictures to prove it. Might give you a lead to follow.
Comments by Max Whipple (1957-1958 - I have never heard of a POW camp in that area. The pictures look to me like what we called Camp 9 and it was located on Lake Bacheji or something like that. It was about 38 miles out of town and took a couple hours to get there with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It was out near Lake Obanga. The big building, with the fireplace, we used for VIP's who came to visit us. The center building had the kitchen and dining. The building on the other end was the bunkhouse. I was assigned to the camp for two weeks to help renovate it. It was in pretty bad shape. We took all of our building materials in by raft because the bridge was not that good but it was not the bridge as pictured in one of the photos. We came in from the bunkhouse end. There were also some back buildings that were useless because they were falling down. One time a bunch of us wanted to get to Lake Obanga from camp 9. We started up the river but swamped the boat making the portage and returned to camp. There was also a connection to Lake Warwick (That's what we called it) which in turn lead into Lake Nipigon by Portage. We did make that trip successfully. We had a lot of problems with bears and had to take 2X4's and nail them to the windows with criss-cross nails in them pointing out to keep the bears away. I have a lot of good stories about Armstrong but never heard of Camp 9 being a POW camp. We had several fish camps and I was always told that they had been abandoned logging camps. Camp 9 could have been both a logging camp and a POW camp.
Comments by Wayne Mathern (1956-1958) – While the USAF operated the site we made arrangements with one of the logging companies that had operated in the area in the late 1930s & 1940s, to lease some of the camps they had by several lakes. The two main camps were Camp 15 and Camp 9. These camps were located southwest of Armstrong and we had to drive by a nearby lake to get to them. I think that lake was called Lake McKinsey and was only a short distance southwest of the village. It was where Superior Airways operated their fish processing station. They would fly supplies to the natives up north (100 to 300 miles) and return with a load of fish where they would ice them down and transport them either to the rail cars at Armstrong or fly them on to Ft William (Thunder Bay) . The road on past Lake McKinsey was nothing more than a logging road and we had to clear the dead fall trees quite often. As I remember, Camp 15 was about 8-10 miles past Lake McKinsey. That camp had three fairly nice cabins which we maintained for our troops interested in fishing. It was fairly secure so that we could leave our boats there on shore when none of our people were out there. I don't remember the name of that lake but it was a nice lake trout lake in the spring. On past Camp 15 the logging road became a little more rugged and it must have been another 8-10 miles to Camp 9. The trip to this camp normally took a good hour unless you had to stop and pull a tree off of the road. Camp 9 was where the German POW camp was said to be. It had the large lodge with the fireplace that we understood was built by the German POWs. There were a couple other cabins along side the lodge and a barn type structure in the open field behind the lodge. The photos that Don Martin posted show all the buildings that I remember including the long double building behind the old boat. It appeared to have been last used as a maintenance building. When I was out there one time I saw several old records which dated back to the late 1930s and up to 1941. Those records seemed to deal with the logging operation and I never saw anything that would confirm the POW operation. The camp was located on a small lake near a river which fed into the lake just above Lake Nipigon. I do not have a map that shows the names of those lakes and I don't recall the name However, looking at a current road map of the area, the three lakes on the east side of route 527 would have been the lakes I mentioned. The first one south of Armstrong was where Superior Airways operated and it had several cabins owned by Armstrong residents. The next lake was where camp 15 was located and then Camp 9 was on the northwest corner of the lake closest to Nipigon. I remember the area in front of the lodge as being fairly well cleared of growth that was there in Don Martin's pictures. We may have cleared all of that when we entertained our Commanding 4 star General and several of his staff, there one time. The south slope in front of the lodge was nice lush grass that spring. He spent most of his time resting on the lawn while the others chased fish. We maintained the cabins as best we could but now and then the bears would tear off a door to get at some bacon or food some of the guys would foolishly leave behind for the next group coming out. The cabins all had drum stoves to heat with and as I remember we had something to cook on in the lodge. I don't remember any reference to Camp 63 or Hudson. The camps were property of the logging company and we would lease them each year. Our agreement was to do minor maintenance/repairs in order to keep them useful. We had two other camps we used as well. One was north of Armstrong on Little Caribou Lake and the other was located southeast of the Armstrong Airport. It was by Castle lake and may have been Camp 13 as I remember. It had three or four cabins and a couple other buildings. One was an old ice house and the other was a sauna. It looked like it had been constructed a few years after Camp 15 and Camp 9 or had been better maintained. I was only out there a few times since it had a bad bridge that we had not repaired and was a bit risky to cross. The area by Little Caribou was where we had built the cabin shown in one of the pictures and was near where the trapper, "Angeline", had her cabin. She ran trap lines through the winter and had one of the first snowmobiles I ever saw. I saw her several times but never had the pleasure of meeting her. Of course there were a number of stories as to way of life. We made arrangements one year to use a set of cabins owned by a pro hockey player. They were located on the main Caribou Lake, about an hours ride in our small boat from our dock on Little Caribou Lake. The place was built as a resort with fairly modern cabins. It had gas refrigerators and stoves. They would fly people in by float plane. We understood that the operation was not too successful financially. I am not sure I have helped you out much with reference to the German POW operation. However, I have since heard a others mention that there were several POW camps in Canada during WWII. All of the stories I have heard indicated the Germans were not too unhappy being located there since it was out of harms way. I would think there would be some historical documents maintained in the clear by your government that would shed some light on this issue. It does sound like it would make an interesting article. If I find any more photos of the area, I will forward them on to you.
Comments from Don Martin (1955-1956) - Yes! I do remember that "German POW" camp. I do not remember how we got that information, but one member of our group, George Wilson, knew about the place and how to get there. Where he got the information remains unknown. However, five of us did take a trip there. I do remember we had a weapons carrier to haul our boat and we went somewhere on an old logging road. Refer to the 1956 photos you posted for me) Picture number 4 was an old bridge that we had to get that weapons carrier over before we could get to the lake. It was almost dark as I remember when we put the boat into the water and now we had to find the place. I don't know how, but we finally arrived around midnight. I don't remember the name of the lake either, but it was quite a ways from the base and not easy to get to. Picture No. 5 was the main building and I do remember that it had a beautiful stone fire place on the inside which we made use of. This building sat up on the hill right in front of the lake. There was a smaller building (picture number 6) located beside of it with a boat that evidently was used for travel on the lake. Picture No. 7 was taken in front of the main building at the lakes edge. Picture number 8 was outside the main building and picture number 9 was the boat that the five of us came in. I knew of no maintenance of the property or who was responsible for it but appeared to be abandoned and only used by the occasional fishermen that came by as evidenced by perishable food that we found in the building and we left our unused perishable food. I did send you all the pictures that I had taken except one, and it was taken inside the camp at night with no lights and only the fireplace burning with a hanging coffee pot in the flames. Fishing was good as you can tell from the pictures. So, for whatever reason, it was known to us as a German POW camp and so I don't know how true that was.
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Updated: April 27, 2003