Historic Sites of Manitoba: Canadian National Railway Water Tower / Prisoner-of-War Camp (RM of Roland)
All that remains of a water tower on the CNR Miami Subdivision in the Rural Municipality of Roland is its eight-sided concrete foundation. Surrounded by agricultural fields, the site was once a temporary camp for prisoners-of-war. They were among the 16,000 German soldiers captured during the Second World War and interned at two dozen camps across Canada, including several in Manitoba. One of them was situated along Highway #23 about three miles west of Kane and 19 miles west of Morris. Another German POW Camp was situated four miles west of Morris. Why was this site selected for the camp? There were two reasons: 1) its close proximity to a railway for transporting prisoners, and 2) the dire need for farm workers because many able-bodied workers were in military service.
The prisoners arrived on 20 September 1946 and were accommodated in tents. They wore blue denim uniforms with a red stripe down their pant legs and a large red circle on their shirt and jacket. They were used to harvest sugar beets. Farmers paid the government the going rate of wages paid to farm workers. In turn, the government paid each prisoner 50 cents per day of work that he could use for his personal needs beyond food and clothing (provided by the government). They were not paid in cash nor could they buy anything to resell. The prisoners made money for the government due to the disparity between what the farmer paid and the workers received. It is estimated that POW labour raised some $3 million over the course of the war. Other “Harvest Hostels” (for sugar beets and grain) for German POWs were established at Altona, Brandon, Dominion City, Elie, Hamiota, Headingley, Holland, Homewood, Letellier, Melita, Neepawa, Portage la Prairie, Reston, Ste. Agathe, St-Jean-Baptiste, St. Pierre, Shoal Lake, Teulon, and Winkler. In 1946, over 600 Manitoba farmers employed 1,130 German POWs on their farms.
The POWs were lightly guarded. An armed guard was posted at the end of each row of beets. But POWs were permitted to walk into the village of Kane to buy groceries or attend church, and visited local farmers who could speak German. Some life-long friendships were made as a result of the German camp in the Kane area, with former POWs revisiting the site in the 1960s. The Germans left the camp on 23 November 1946 due to increasing cold and a fire that destroyed the officer’s tent. They were moved to Camp Shilo. Eventually, those soldiers who wished to return to Germany were sent home. An unknown number stayed and became Canadians.
The water tower foundation was removed from the site in early 2017.
“German war prisoners here must return to homeland,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 October 1946, page 11.
Manitoba Department of Agriculture and Immigration, 1946 Annual Report, Schedule A, Prisoner of War Project 1946. [Manitoba Legislative Library]
Kane - The Spirit Lives On, Kane History Book Committee, 2000, pages 356-357.
This page was prepared by Darryl Toews.
Page revised: 6 August 2017
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