On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began and Canadians responded with more than one million of its men and women enlisting in the military. Many were sent overseas, and stories of the courageousness of Canadians on the battlefront emerged. This war is known for uniting the country and forging its own national identity, but a lesser known aspect from this period takes place at home. In a significant reaction to the war, internment camps were established and Canada detained citizens of its own country, discriminating against members of German, Japanese and Italian communities. In addition, Canada had an active part in accepting German prisoners of war who were captured in active duty. This blog post will look at the establishment of prisoner of war and internment camps in Alberta, and briefly at the people who were detained, and the life they experienced.
On the evening of January 9, 1944, 500 soldiers arrived in the sleepy mountain town of Jasper, Alberta. Disembarking from the train, they marched through town accompanied by the skirl of their bagpipes and disappeared into the winter’s night. They were the Lovat Scouts, an elite British regimental unit sent to Canada to train for an Allied-led invasion of Nazi-occupied Norway. Far removed from the conflict in Europe, the mountains of Jasper National Park had been chosen as the location for this impressive undertaking.
Originally organized by the 16th Lord Lovat, the Lovat Scouts were a unique fighting force composed of Scottish Highlanders renowned for their excellent marksmanship and command of rugged terrain. The regiment served with great distinction in the South African Boer War and again in WWI where they won much acclaim at Gallipoli. In WWII, the Scouts were selected to be a key part of the Allied-led invasion of Norway. Recognized as having specialized skills adept to a mountain campaign, they were the only British unit to undergo formal training in high altitude warfare. Their training, which commenced in the mountains of Scotland and Wales, was completed under winter conditions in Jasper National Park.