Other strangers in town

The men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were not the only strangers in Amherst. From April 1915 to September 1919, (1) Amherst was also the site of an internment and prisoner-of-war camp — aka a concentration camp. (1)  Like the other two dozen such camps in Canada, it held prisoners of war (usually sailors captured at sea), civilians identified by the Canadian government as enemy aliens, and members of the German army reserve who might otherwise return to serve on active duty against Britain and her allies. (2)

Over eight hundred people lived in the old works, variously identified as the Malleable Iron Foundry (2) or the Canada Car Company (3) in what is now a rather bleak semi-industrial corner of town. The building, surrounded by barbed wire, was long and narrow, being only 100 feet (30 m) wide — and thirteen times as long. It had space for sleeping, washing, eating, and recreation at one end; at the other was a camp hospital and accommodation for officers. (4) Over 250 guards worked there at its periods of maximum capacity and unrest.

Its most famous internee was Leon Trotsky, who spent a month at the facility in 1917. “It was located,” wrote Trotsky, “in an old and very dilapidated iron-foundry that had been confiscated from its German owner. The sleeping bunks were arranged in three tiers, two deep, on each side of the hall. About eight hundred of us lived in these conditions. The air in this improvised dormitory at night can be imagined. Men hopelessly clogged the passages, elbowed their way through, lay down or got up, played cards or chess. Many of them practised crafts, some with extraordinary skill. … And yet, in spite of the heroic efforts of the prisoners to keep themselves physically and morally fit, five of them had gone insane. We had to eat and sleep in the same room with these madmen.”(5)


(1) Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund. List of Internment Camps.
(2) Brian Tennyson. “Trotsky was interned here.” The Chronicle Herald.
(3) Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum. “Amherst Internment Camp
(4) Cumberland County Museum and Archives. “Amherst Internment Camp
(5) Qtd in Cameron, Silver Donald. “Trotsky in Amherst.”

The image of German internees is found on various sites and is attributed to the Library and Archives of Canada.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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