Sat., July 16, 2016
The derelict buildings of historic Camp 30, believed to be Canada’s only remaining prisoner of war camp from the Second World War, which were once feared unsalvageable, have emerged victorious against the test of time.
Earlier this month, the Town of Clarington announced it has approved a deal with developer Kaitlin Developments and Fandor Homes to acquire five hectares of the Camp 30 lands and some of the “historically significant” buildings on the property.
“This is a slice of history right in our backyard,” said Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster, in a press release. “Council would like to restore and rehabilitate the buildings which are historical landmarks in our community.”
Camp 30 was the only site used by the Allies to house captured, high-ranking Nazi officers. It is the only known intact camp for German prisoners of war left in the world.
Saving the property has long been a labour of love for local advocates and history buffs, who feared that after years of vandalism and neglect, the buildings were destined for the wrecking ball. Over time, windows have shattered, graffiti has covered the walls and the buildings, once considered architecturally unique, have started to crumble. Despite the site’s remarkable history, its future was always uncertain, said Corinna Traill, Clarington Ward 3 councillor.
“I grew up with Camp 30, knowing that we had this great historical site and basically seeing it go to ruin,” said Traill. “This is really a case that if the town hadn’t stepped in, this site would have been reduced to rubble.”
In the 1920s, 18 buildings were built on 40 hectares of rural land about 45 minutes east of Toronto, initially serving as a training school for “troubled” boys. But during the Second World War, the site was converted into a PoW camp to house high-ranking members of the Third Reich.
Among its most famous inhabitants were Otto Kretschmer, a skilled German U-boat commander, who was involved in a daring but ultimately unsuccessful escape attempt that was supposed to see him and three others tunnel their way to the east coast. The operation was foiled by guards and the carefully built tunnels were collapsed.
But the site’s layered history has been lost on many outside of Bowmanville.
Once the previous owners moved out in 2008, local residents and politicians started “to advocate for the site at every opportunity,” said Marilyn Morawetz, chair of the Jury Lands Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the conservation of historic lands and the creation of a long-term plan to preserve this property.
It was only in 2013, when the federal government designated Camp 30 a National Historic Site and it made it onto Heritage Canada’s Top 10 list of endangered sites, that it was nationally recognized. But until the property was in private hands, there was little the town or the foundation could do in terms of drumming up funds, said Devon Daniell, director of business development for developer Kaitlin Corporation.
When Katilin Corp. bought the land, they didn’t know its significance, he said. But over the last few years, they have been working with the town and foundation to find a way to preserve the buildings and the history, he said. That included talking to the developers of Toronto’s Distillery District in Toronto for inspiration and ideas.
The transfer of land is expected later this year. Before then, the developer will demolish the buildings that have not been identified for historic preservation. The town will be responsible for five of the original buildings, while the developer plans to convert one into a clubhouse to serve a future community.
The developer will also clean up the area, including removing the graffiti which is proving to be a difficult task, said Daniell.
“Despite our best efforts to preserve the site, you can’t stop these people who are motivated to damage it,” he said, adding that vandals have been relentless, spray painting over security cameras, knocking down fences and masonry walls with ATVs, he said.
Once the clean up takes place, the developer is to make a $500,000 donation to the town to assist with maintenance, he said.
The developer has plans for a housing development on some portions of the land. The five-hectare parcel is part of the developer’s mandatory parkland contribution to the town.
Town officials say while this deal is the first and most important step in securing this piece of Canadian history, the entire country should take ownership of the project.
“Redevelopment of these historical buildings cannot be on the backs of local taxpayers,” said Faye Langmaid, manager of special projects with the town. “This is a national project, with a national scope.”