The Site and the Project
PoW Camp Background
The Whitewater Prisoner of War (PoW) camp was a Second World War internment camp located in the heart of Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. To further support its allies, Canada agreed to receive over 30,000 German PoWs from Great Britain during the height of the war. As a result, the Whitewater PoW Camp housed 450 German Afrika Korps soldiers that were captured in Egypt after the Second Battle of El-Alamein.
The Whitewater camp was constructed by the Department of Munitions and Supplies and was occupied by October 1943 and decommissioned in November 1945. A total of 15 buildings were constructed and included an administration office, administrative staff quarters, barns for horses, a blacksmith shop, bunkhouses equipped with washroom and bathing facilities, a commissary store, a cookhouse with dining hall to accommodate the entire camp, a garage and machine shop, a small hospital and a power plant.
The German PoWs at Whitewater Lake were responsible for logging and producing cordwood from a fire-killed stand of trees east of the lake; their efforts would contribute to the regional labour and fuel shortages brought on by the war effort. These prisoners volunteered to work at the Park to avoid crowded conditions at internment camps in Alberta.
Today the Whitewater PoW Camp is a backcountry campsite and can be accessed by cycling, hiking, or horseback riding out to Whitewater Lake along the Central Trail. All that remains of the buildings are a few concrete foundations and a portion of the incinerator.
The Whitewater PoW Camp Archaeology Project is a three-year collaborative endeavor between Stanford University and Parks Canada. Archaeological investigations of the Whitewater PoW camp will be examining internment and incarceration of the recent past. Researchers will be looking at the role of material culture plays in power relations, specifically the power one group can maintain over another through portable material objects.
Initial archaeological field surveys, mapping, and test-excavations were conducted in 2010. During the summer of 2011, the Brandon University Archaeological Field School will be assisting the Whitewater Project with field excavations of four camp middens, providing unique insights into the institutional life at the PoW camp. These garbage middens reflect different disposal contexts, specifically the sanctioned and non-sanctioned disposal of camp, guard, and PoW trash.
Additional information about the site and the project may be found at Riding Mountain National Park of Canada’s Historic and Cultural Heritage webpage and the Whitewater PoW Camp Archaeology Project Website.