German POWs - Camp 20 - Town of Gravenhurst

Ice on gull Lake

German POWs - Camp 20

Between 1940 and 1946 the government operated a prisoner of war camp in Gravenhurst. Known as Camp 20 or Camp Calydor it was an officers' camp from 1941 until the end of the war. When it looked like Britain would be invaded in 1940, the POWs held in England were transferred out of the country to keep them from being freed by the invaders.

Camp Calydor was built on the site of the former Minnewaska Hotel. The hotel operated from 1897 to 1908. Competition was intense and many other hotels operated in the area and so it closed in 1908.

Due to the increase in cases of tuberculosis it was necessary to have more hospital rooms. The Minnewaska was converted into a private sanitorium.  Calydor Sanitorium opened in 1916. In 1935 the sanitorium was closed.

POW Camp 20 was, by all standards a vacation spa for the POWs. They had a swimming area and were allowed to build themselves an aquarium. By the summer of 1940 Camp Calydor held 489 prisoners. The prisoners were taken to work on projects around Gravenhurst especially at Gull Lake Park where a set of stone steps remain of their workmanship. They also built a lighthouse in the park.

On July 15, 1948 the newly renovated buildings were re-opened as Leyland Holiday Village. In the 1960's the camp was operated as Camp Aviv and offered Jewish youth a vacation area. In November 1967 a fire destroyed much of the property and another fire on April 13, 1968 finished it off.

All that remains are the silent concrete pillars standing in rows in the woods. The old sewage treatment facilities, fire hydrants and the outline of the security fence could be found amongst the regrowth of trees in the 1990's. The site has recently been developed for a subdivision. There is now a little information kiosk at the end of Lorne Street along with the former POWs stone fish tank.

The camp also had its own small zoo that had a monkey and a black bear that prisoners would wrestle as a form of exercise. The camp had its own gardens where the prisoners would grow their own vegetables and they were able to smoke sausages from the local animals. Some prisoners of war said that they became friends with the guards who sought to make the place as friendly as possible to avoid escapes. Many prisoners had the opportunity to work outside of the camp and lumber camps and received a small wage as well as access to the outside world. Through this access to the outside world many German prisoners of war had love affairs with the local girls.

Ulrich Steinhilper, a German fighter ace who shot down five RAF airplanes during the Battle of Britain before himself being shot down, was one of the prisoners here; he made at least five attempts to escape from various camps, his last two attempts being at Gravenhurst.

Today, all that remains of Camp 20 is concrete pillars, a fire hydrant, and the outline of a fence. There is an information kiosk at the end of Lorne Street where visitors can go to get more information on the camp.