A POW Camp in Alberta
Today is Remembrance Day so it is right and proper for us to think of the Canadians who fought for freedom and the life we cherish. Sometimes events that happen so far away, such as the battles in Europe, can seem so removed from us, especially if we don’t have a direct connection to a fallen soldier. That’s only natural and it’s true of most events including those that have nothing to do with military action. Events such as floods or tornados, droughts or just about anything seem, well, somehow diminished the farther away they occurred. Perhaps that is why we have cenotaphs as local monuments to the people who fought in wars. There are also pieces of equipment on display in various places that we can see and touch. There’s an old church southeast of Edmonton with a German trench mortar next to the front door. I wrote a blog about that interesting place and you can see it by clicking here. Distance does matter to us whether we realize it or not. So today I want to tell you about a place that is very close to the Edmonton area and will bring WWII up close and personal. I’m talking about a prisoner of war camp (“POW”).
Some POW camps are well known and well documented. They were located in Lethbridge and Kananaskis as well as Medicine Hat and Wainwright. I’m sure that some of you can name other locations. There are three publications that name many locations so for those who wish to read more about them these are the books that may interest you.
- Behind Canadian Barbed Wire.
- Escape From Canada.
- Prairie Prisoners.
It’s my understanding that none of those books will mention a POW camp in west central Alberta. This camp was located west of Edmonton and is now surrounded by the west and east lanes of the Yellowhead Highway. To be more precise, in the Chip Lake area. I don’t know why official lists exclude this place. Perhaps it was a smaller camp and somehow just didn’t get on the official lists. Maybe record keeping was just not very good in those days. However the local people remember it and I’ve visited the crumbling ruins of the old buildings. The area is so overgrown with the encroaching forest that it’s hard to see the ruins of the camp until you are right in front of it. Here are some images I took a number of years ago. More recently the son of a German prisoner of war who spent time at this camp reached out to me and provided copies of some of his father’s photographs from that time.
The Granada Prison Camp 1941-1945
The following are selected excerpts of an article by Emil Berg, as found in “Where the River Lobstick Flows”, Volume II, pages 187 & 692.
“They built two large buildings side by side on the hill just south of ‘our hill’. One building was one level for the cookhouse . The larger one to the west was a two-storey structure for the sleeping quarters. On ‘our hill’ there were two houses, the ‘Berg house’ and a short distance away was the ‘guard house’. The prisoners were German, about one hundred and twenty -five and the guards were Canadian, about four or five. ‘Jeff’, Jeffrey was a friend and one of the guards.”
“The prisoners worked in the mill for Swanson and earned about a dollar a day. Once a week the guards marched them down to Johnny Hrychuk’s Store for cigarettes, etc. The prisoners were well respected in the town and really became part of the community. Many people would go and watch them play soccer in the evenings.”
“One prisoner was an ‘SS’ and was one of Hitler’s top men. He didn’t associate with the other men and kept to himself a lot. On Sundays he would tour the town in his polished uniform and ‘High Officers’ hat. He always carried a type of cane and his black dog marched beside him in strict unison.”
“Then one day in 1945 the train pulled up at the station to take all the prisoners back home. This was a very sad day for the whole town. Many of us went down to see them off. Everyone was shaking hands and hugging and many even crying. We were really losing half of the community. Many of them said they would bring their families back to live here and some did just that.”
“A prisoner did this painting and gave it to us when they left. The painting here was done from the hill and near the prison camp. Some of the houses you see, families of Johnsons, Bjornstads, Hermansens, Nohrs and Fleiders. The tracks run on the side of the houses, the hall, store and garage are off to the right on the side of the tracks and the railroad station just north of the store.”
Heinrich Berg’s Story
The eight old photos below were sent to me from Hans-Heinrich from Germany, whose father, Heinrich Berg was a pow in Granada, Alberta. Hans discovered these photos when he was cleaning up his father’s estate.
The last two images are of much higher quality so they may have been made by the military and given out to the the POWs but that’s just a guess. In the last image, the man second from the right wearing a white apron is Heinrich Berg. The images above them are likely of Swanson’s sawmill where many of the prisoners could work.
Heinrich Berg became a soldier and in November 1941, at the age of 20, he was sent from Germany to Tobruk, a Libyan deep water port that saw fierce battles during WWII. Heinrich was was captured in December 1941 and sent to Cairo, Egypt as a prisoner of war. After four months in Cairo he was sent to Pietermaritzburg in South Africa and in August 1942 he was moved to Canada aboard the Mauretania. In Canada Heinrich Berg was first sent to Ozada. approximately 80km east of Calgary.
Ozada, an Alberta mining town, was a Second World War German prisoner-of-war camp in 1943, about four kilometres southwest of the Ozada townsite. The camp was in operation for less than a year during 1943 and 1944 to house German prisoners captured in the Africa campaigns. They were then transferred to camps near Lethbridge.Source: Ghost Towns of Alberta
They were then transferred to camps near Lethbridge. In November 1942 the German prisoners of war were moved to a new prison camp near Lethbridge. It was to become one of the largest POW camps in Canada. Many of the prisoners were allowed to work with local farmers. I know this because both my mom and my mother-in-law remember seeing the Germans working at various farms. On September 22, 1944 Heinrich Berg was moved again, this time to Granada where he would work at Swanson sawmill and in the camp as a assistant cook. He stayed at Granada until July 1945 when he was returned to Lethbridge to wait to be transported back to Germany. He arrived back in Germany via Britain in April 1947. When Hans-Heinrich was cleaning up his father’s estate he found a letter his father wrote to another cook named MacNarry. In this letter he said that he would like to come back to Canada.
“Hi Glen, I was just reading your text. My father Heinrich Berg was one of the pows, who spent his time in Alberta, first two or three months in the pow camp in Ozada, than in Lethbridge and also in Granada. He worked at Swansons and also as an assistant cook in the camp of Granada. At that time he was a young man of 21 years and he only told good things about the Canadians and Canada and he really wanted to come back to Canada. But my mother was against it. So he never came back to Canada, but his time in Canada was very important for his live and very often he told about it. I myself was in Alberta in 2014 and visited the pow place in Ozada. But my father died in 2009, so we couldn’t talk about my visit. Thank you very much for your report.
With greetingsHans-Heinrich Berg
Hans-Heinrich Berg and his wife live in Nackenheim near Mainz. Mainz has about 200,000 residents and is the capital of the state Rheinland-Pfalz.
The images below have nothing to do with the Granada POW camp. They are my photographs of a commemorative march in Edmonton taken April 9, 2017. It was on April 9th, 1917 that four divisions of the Canadian military participated in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a pivotal moment in the development of a Canadian identity. Yes, it’s the wrong war for the subject of this blog but the images look great here so I’ve added them.
As a Canadian I’m proud of what our country did and the sacrifice of so many of our soldiers. I’m also proud of the guards at Canadian run prison camps and how well they treated the German prisoners. So well in fact that many returned as soon as they could. Most of those German prisoners were just ordinary young men not unlike our own soldiers. They were conscripted to the military and wanted only to return alive to their families at home. The prisoners who returned to Germany would have learned a Canadian way of dealing with people and no doubt that influenced how they conducted the rest of their lives.
This history is just over an hour west of Edmonton in a place nobody would otherwise think to walk through. A little bit of WWII in our own backyards. Perhaps it will help you, as it does me, to think of the events of one of the wars as being very close to you. Lest we forget.
Note: The cover image is of an aircraft that had nothing to do with the POW camp. It is located in Alberta though. I photographed it in Cold Lake.