Camp Calydor – Gravenhurst German POW Camp

Sunday August 2, 2015

A summer long weekend and a trip to Gravenhurst on a whim to see my parents.  This post is, therefore, refering to Hiking the GTA (Gravenhurst Tourist Area).  In the Greater Toronto Area we have a constant battle with developers who don’t see the heritage value in some of our historic buildings. Lacking room for expansion they often get demolished in the name of progress.  Even in cottage country a piece of land can have had multiple uses as the history of the site at the end of Lorne Street will attest to.

In the late Victorian era it became fashionable to spend time at a summer resort in Muskoka. Tourists would arrive by train to ports like Gravenhurst to be whisked away by steam ships to resorts with grand names and lavish appointments.  One such place was right on the edge of Gravenhurst and could be reached by coach from the railway station.  Opened on May 24, 1897 the Minnewaska Tourist Hotel celebrated with a grand ball to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday and the 60th year of her rule.  Due to intense competition it would survive as a tourist hotel for only 11 years.

Assembled 10 years earlier in Gravenhust the R.M.S. Segwun was built in Glasgow, Scotland. Originally named Nipissing II the side paddlewheel steamer transported mail and passengers from Gravenhurst to resorts and cottages around the lake.  In 1914 it was taken out of service until 1925 when it was re-launched as R. M. S. Segwun (Ojibwa for Springtime).  It served Canada Post as a Royal Mail Ship until 1958 when land delivery made it obsolete.  After serving as a floating museum between 1962 and 1973 it was again converted to a steam ship. Launched in 1974 by Pierre Elliot Trudeau it now hosts cruises around the lake.  The picture below shows the Segwun as it leaves for a voyage.


Tuberculosis was increasing in 1908 and the normal prescription was lots of fresh air.  Patients were shipped to sanatoriums in the countryside.  The Muskoka Free Hospital and the Muskoka Cottage Sanitorium were soon full and more space was needed.  In 1909 the Minnewaska Hotel was converted into the Minnewaska Hospital.  This too was overcrowded very quickly and so a plan was developed to build a new facility adjacent to the existing one.  Construction began in July 1915 with the new Calydor Sanatorium opening on April 15, 1916.  The building featured large, open air balconies and was nestled in 25 acres of woods on a rocky promontory overlooking the lake.  By 1923 the TB epidemic was increasing and more space was needed. The old Minnewaska Hotel had stood empty since 1917 and it was now demolished to make room for a large expansion.  Medical advances led to a decline of TB cases by the 1930’s and the deepening depression prevented many people from seeking private care.  This led to the closure of Calydor Sanatorium in 1935.

On Sept. 10, 1939 Canada declared war on Germany in support of the United Kingdom.  With the German bombing campaign and a possible invasion of England the British began to worry about the thousands of POW’s it was holding in various camps.  The fear was the they could get set free by an invading army and return to the battle.  Canada agreed to house prisoners and secure internment camps had to be located.  Calydor Sanatorium was identified as a suitable place and was leased by the Government in 1940.  It was designated as Internment Camp 20 or Camp Calydor.  German Prisoners were marched up the steps in the picture below and through the only gate into the secured compound.


Sunday, June 30th 1940 was the date of the first arrival of prisoners to Camp Calydor.  476 prisoners and 109 guards made up the initial inhabitants of the new POW camp.  The concrete base for the fence surrounding the barracks and other secured buildings can still be traced through much of the property.


This picture was taken in 1993 when there were a lot more artifacts remaining on site.  At that time the area was heavily overgrown with trees.  This is part of the former water control system.


This picture, also taken in 1993 shows one of four water pumps hiding in the woods.


Those four pumps are now left on display in the middle of a grassy field.


Sewage disposal systems for the POW camp were designed to prevent escape.  Pipes were used that were too small for a person to crawl through.  The filtration system in this picture still contains three of the original mesh screens.  Cleaning them must have been a chore on a hot summer day.


With the war over all the German prisoners were returned to Germany and Camp Calydor officially closed on June 29th, 1946.  The inmates had been able to swim in the lake in the summer and a barbed wire fence was set up in the lake to keep them from escaping.  The prisoners built themselves a large fish tank and stocked it with fish they caught while swimming.  The tank has been preserved and is on display in the park on the end of Lorne Street.


On July 1st, 1949 the property was opened as a resort called Gateway Hotel.  At the time it was the largest Jewish resort in Ontario.  Slowly the tourists declined and the hotel was again abandoned.  In 1965 the property was bought and a plan was put forward to demolish the buildings and develop the site for single family housing.  The main buildings were destroyed by fire on Nov. 22, 1967 and other fires in 1968 finished off the rest of the structures.  It is now 50 years since the plan was put forward for the subdivision and homes are currently being built. The foundations to the main building are seen running through the woods in this 1993 picture as well as in the cover photo.  The cover photo also features a large oil storage drum used for heating.  A new home stands in this location now.


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13 thoughts on “Camp Calydor – Gravenhurst German POW Camp

  1. Bill

    It’s not “the Muskoka ‘s”. There is only one Muskoka township. You can say “the Adirondack s” since it’s a string of “mountains”, there are many.

  2. Rick Hutfloetz

    The German POWs who died there are buried in Kitchener at the Woodland cemetery. Every fall after our Remembrance Day, there is a memorial service for these young men who gave their lives for their country.

  3. michael wayling

    For those interested, there is a very informative book authored by Cecil Porter and carrying the title, “The Gilded Cage”. Subtitled, “Gravenhurst German Prisoner of War Camp 20, 1940 – 1946 “

  4. J Wallace

    Muskoka needs to Preserve this Site and its History for Friend and Foe
    Alike . Even though these trials and tribulations seem miniscule the connection to Catastrophic World Events of this era are Monumental.

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  10. mike higgins

    My good friend and neighbor – now age 96 – served in the Black Watch as a sniper and scout – landing on Juno in 1944 – serving through France , Belgium , Holland and Germany. At war’s end he was posted to serve as a guard at Camp 20 in Gravenhurst. He has many interesting stories to tell about his time on duty there. He will be thrilled when I show him this article.

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