Today’s post comes from Katherine Muzyliwsky, a natural heritage education student at Neys Provincial Park.
Before Neys became a provincial park, it was known as Neys Camp 100. Instead of happy campers on vacation, the park housed German prisoners of war during World War II.
After operating as a prisoner of war camp from 1941 to 1946, the buildings were dismantled in 1953. Since then, artifacts have turned up from discoveries in the park and generous donations.
Put yourself in their shoes
What better way to understand a prisoner than to put yourself in their shoes? These boots are believed to have belonged to a German prisoner during his internment in Neys.
Imagine being a prisoner. It must have been very frustrating and intimidating to walk on a 64-hour train journey from Halifax to a cold, foreign land, not knowing where you were.
To reduce the chance of possible escape attempts, the guards concealed their location by covering destination signs along the train tracks.
Confined by barbed wire
As you can imagine, a prisoner of war camp requires a barricade to keep the prisoners confined. Barbed wire was used as an escape deterrent. There were three rows of barbed wire fences, each three meters high and three meters apart.
The approximately 500 prisoners resided inside the fence, while on the other side were the 100 members of the Canadian Veterans Guard along the northern shore of Lake Superior.
The Canadian Veterans Guard was made up of veterans of the First World War, many of whom were too old or injured to enlist in the Second World War, but could still help in the prisoner of war camp.
Within the fenced area, H-shaped barracks, a recreation room, a dining hall, a hospital, and a sports field could be found. If you walk through the camp today, you can still see remains of the camp.
Recorded in time
This cigarette case could have belonged to a prisoner or a guard. If you look closely, you can see the initials “WB” engraved in a heart in the bottom corner.
Was it a gift from a loved one? Who is WB and what was its history? This artifact reminds us that both prisoners and guards were isolated from their families, friends and loved ones while serving their countries.
Daily life as a prisoner of war.
The daily lives of prisoners can be imagined from oral histories and research articles. Most of the prisoners worked for the Pigeon River Timber Company in logging camps along the Little Pic River.
As Canadian men traveled overseas to serve on the front lines during the war, prisoners of war helped fill labor shortages faced by lumber companies. They used tools like the pike to help reduce the pain of bundling cords of wood.
Prisoner of war art.
Still, the prisoners had a lot of free time. This allowed them to participate in organized sports, an orchestra, logging work, and art while in the prisoner of war camp. The prisoners painted postcards, canvases, made sculptures, wood carvings and more.
This ship carving was made by a prisoner in Neys. Since many of Neys’s prisoners were German Air Force or Navy officers, ships were a common subject for his work. This piece is called “Karlsruhe” and was probably the ship on which the artistic prisoner served before being captured.
Notice the small details, including a full artillery.
Ladles are an important tool in the kitchen. This was found in the forest ruins of the Neys 100 complex. The prisoners are said to have been given fresh eggs upon arrival and provided with coffee, tea, pickled meat, potatoes, porridge, soup, bread, cabbage and even beer.
The prisoners had German cooks, were very well fed, and rarely experienced food shortages. The camp food may not have been too far from what we eat today when camping in Neys!
Food and other supplies were delivered by train, which can still be heard and seen running along the northern boundary of the park.
Today, the dining room (where the prisoners dined) is the largest remaining vestige. Parts of the foundation can be seen along the park’s main road between Area 1 and the Comfort Station.
Remember, if you find any artifacts or remnants, leave them in place, take a photo, and report their location to park staff.
After the prisoners ate, we hope they also cleaned their teeth. This toothbrush head, found in the park, has a plastic body with horsehair bristles that may have belonged to a camp resident.
Even as prisoners and in the middle of World War II, hygiene was essential to maintain good health. The prisoners also had a small washing station in the center section of their barracks.
From artists to escape artists
German prisoners had many opportunities and hobbies and generally what seemed to be a good life in the camp. Ultimately, however, his job was to try to escape.
These handmade weapons (a hammer body with a rusty nail and a gun-shaped body with a serrated blade) were recently donated to Neys Provincial Park by the family of a former guard who confiscated them from prisoners during his guard at Neys Camp 100.
Call Canada home
The prisoners of Neys Camp 100 were eventually sent back to Germany in March 1946. As a result of the good treatment the prisoners received, many emigrated back to Canada to call this country their home.
Neys Provincial Park was named a National Historic Event in 2012, recognizing the fair and humane treatment of prisoners of war across Canada during the Second World War.