About an hour east from Toronto you’ll find the abandoned remains of Camp 30, once used as a POW camp that once held high ranking German soldiers during World War II. First opened in 1925 as the Bowmanville Boys Training School, the buildings were constructed in the Prairie School style of architecture, a distinctive American movement associated with Frank Lloyd Wright that originated in Chicago and spread throughout the American Midwest but is rarely found in Canada.
The buildings of Camp 30 initially operated as a reformatory for delinquent youth until it was adapted for use as an internment camp between 1941-1945. In the years since it was used as a POW camp, the buildings were used to house several different academic institutions, most recently utilized by the Darul Uloom Islamic University.
Nearly 900 prisoners of war captured by Allied forces were held at Camp 30. One of the reasons for sending them all the way to Canada was to keep them as far away from the actual war as possible. Geography didn’t stop German forces from attempting to rescue four U-Boat commanders being held in Bowmanville in 1943 as part of the failed Operation Kiebitz. Coded messages to the prisoners at Camp 30 laying out the plan for the operation were intercepted by Canadian authorities, who pretended not to notice the prisoners “secretly” digging tunnels under the perimeter of the camp. The plan included stationing a German submarine off the coast of New Brunswick, which would rendezvous with the prisoners after escaping the camp. The Allied response to the failed operation was to launch Operation Pointe Maisonnette, a focus of the Battle of St. Lawrence which resulted in 340 deaths (the first time a foreign power had killed Canadians on Canadian soil since the U.S. invaded during the War of 1812).
Completely vacant since 2007, the buildings constitute the only remaining POW camp from WWII in North America. It was purchased by the Kaitlin Group with plans to develop the area into a residential community. At that time it was formally recognized as a national historic site of Canada and the Kaitlin Group announced its intent to donate the remaining buildings that made up Camp 30 to the municipality of Clarington to be used as a public park, which would allow for the 18 historic buildings to be preserved and the 8 buildings deemed to be historical insignificant to be demolished.
On May 11, 2016, the city of Clarington announced the creation of the Ehrenwort Trail, a one kilometer marked trail through part of the grounds with an entry on a nearby residential street, Sprucewood Crescent. While the city was very clear that the trail did not allow for exploration of any of the abandoned buildings, it did allow for the opportunity to walk around the buildings and get a close look at them. There was even an official trail map to reference.
Excited for any opportunity to legally explore an abandoned site, we headed to Bowmanville in August, 2016 to see Camp 30 for ourselves. We found the marked trailhead on Sprucewood Crescent and set off on the quick walk towards the camp grounds. Once we got there, we immediately noticed some heavy duty surveillance structures. Since we had very carefully confirmed beforehand that the trail was indeed open to the public, we didn’t think much of it and continued on our way, making sure to stick to the trail. Within about 5 minutes, we heard a siren and a voice crackle on from the closest surveillance structure announcing to us that we were trespassing and that we would be arrested if we did not leave immediately. Not wanting to break our lifelong streak of not being arrested, we quickly followed the trail back to the car.
We reached out to the city of Clarington afterwards since just a few days prior they had again encouraged people to “Take a hike along “Ehrenwort” trail!”on their Facebook page. Their response was to explain that while the trail was public, the heritage buildings were not yet owned by the municipality and that the actual landowner had recently installed the security system. We found this to be both disappointing and also confusing. Why install a security system on a public trail and then invite the public to a trail that is on private land and could result in arrest?