Sunday, August 27, 2017
People who live in the GTA and enjoy exploring our local history are often looking for excursions for when they’re away from home. This road trip is for those headed up the 400 and Highway 11 with a destination in Gravenhurst and one just outside of Orillia. This post combines the WW2 Prisoner of War camp in Gravenhurst and the historic mill in Marchmont, starting with the former.
When the Germans began to bomb Britain the allies became concerned that the island might fall into Nazi hands. If this were to happen thousands of POWs that were interred in England would be released and allowed to return to combat. It was decided to move them to places such as Canada, for safe keeping. An old tuberculosis hospital in Gravenhurst was selected as the home for Camp 20, also known as Camp Calydor. June 30, 1940, was the opening day of the prison camp and there were 476 prisoners and 109 guards on hand to mark the occasion. The picture below shows modifications made to the sewage system to prevent prisoners from being able to fit through the pipes.
The camp was fenced in on all sides, including a fence that enclosed part of the lake so the inmates could swim in the summer. When they arrived in town they were marched from the train station, down Lorne Street, and into the compound. The sole entrance and exit for inmates was up this set of stairs.
Most of the old concrete foundations have been removed in the name of progress so that a new subdivision can be created. The picture below shows some of the foundations for the main building and a boiler as they existed in the late 1980’s.
The POWs built an aquarium and stocked it with fish they caught in the lake. This little reminder of the lives of the residents of Camp Calydor has been rescued and put on display in the little parkette at the end of Lorne Street.
On either the northbound or southbound trip you may want to take a ten-minute detour to see the old mill in Marchmont. Coldwater Road heading out of Orillia will lead you to the town of Marchmont. The mill pond is still in place as is the old metal penstock that began to draw water from the pond in 1910 when it replaced the original wooden one. Since the mill is no longer in service the flume is no lo longer repaired and has several large holes rusted through it.
The grist mill in Marchmont was built in 1834 and was initially intended to provide work for local natives. It operated until 1884 when it was destroyed by a fire. The town went without a grist mill for three years until a new one was built in 1887. For the next 60 years, it ground flour and then it was converted into a feed mill in 1947. In 1987, for its 100th anniversary, it was closed and converted into a private residence.
Parts of the old turbine are laying on the corner of the property. The spiral casing is also nearby.
Marchmont has several historic buildings as it still retains much of the old Victorian era charm. As for Gravenhurst, it has many stories left to tell.
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