Camp 30 Fights On

Originally published on Torontoist on May 8, 2012.


Entryway to triple barracks, used to house 300 POWs at Camp 30.

Seventy years ago, a provincial reform school for boys on the outskirts of Bowmanville was transformed into a POW camp for captured German officers during World War II. Today, the surviving structures of Camp 30 are fighting another war, against vandals and time. Victory appears to be a possibility.

Recently, Torontoist joined a tour of the complex organized by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s Next Generation group. It will likely turn out to have been the last organized tour of Camp 30 for a while, because Kaitlin Homes, the property’s owner, still doesn’t know quite what to do with the site. Discussions regarding its future are ongoing.


Tour guide and executive director of Clarington Museums and Archives Martha Rutherford Conrad praised Kaitlin’s decision to not demolish Camp 30 while long-term preservation efforts are underway. While Kaitlin is planning to build subdivisions on the north and south ends of the property, they have agreed to set aside the core 30 acres of Canada’s last surviving German POW camp.


Front of Jury Hall, where POWs often posed for photos.

Opened in 1925 as a provincial training school for boys on land donated by local businessman John Jury, the site was chosen to hold POWs because it was easy to convert for those purposes. Several original school buildings, especially Jury Hall, show influences of the Prairie style of architecture as practised by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, including flat roofs, and upper rows of windows designed to maximize natural light. When Rutherford Conrad approached American architecture experts about the buildings, they found it odd that the province chose a style that was at a low ebb when the school opened.

The front of Jury Hall was a popular spot for prisoners to pose for photographs when the Red Cross delivered their medals from Germany. Officers brought to Camp 30 were generally treated well: they were allowed to garden, produce plays, run a newspaper, and attend lectures given by visiting professors from the University of Toronto. They were even given occasional offsite access to swim in Lake Ontario or ski.


The cafeteria, one of the main sites of the “Battle of Bowmanville.”

Despite their relative comfort, the Germans were still prisoners and made regular escape attempts, many plotted in the triple barracks building. Some POWs made half-hearted efforts to flee; there were stories of prisoners who, having performed their escape duty, went to nearby farms and asked the farmers to drive them back to the camp. Other efforts were intended to return figures like U-boat commander Otto Kretschmer to battle, but his tunneling attempts failed. A move to shackle the POWs following similar German actions after the battle of Dieppe led to the “Battle of Bowmanville” in October 1942. Prisoners took over key buildings for several days and fashioned weapons from whatever was on hand, from china to ketchup bottles. The cafeteria, the oldest structure at the camp, was the last building to fall back into Canadian hands.


Graffiti in the Generals House/hospital.

Camp 30 was quickly turned back into a reform school after the war, which it remained until 1979. Several private schools used the site over the next 30 years until Darul Uloom, an Islamic boarding school, departed the premises in fall 2008. Afterward, Camp 30 fell prey to vandalism that has accelerated over the past two years. The walls of the general’s house/hospital are spray-painted with the Joker’s catchphrases, while the theft of vinyl siding from the cafeteria exposed its wood to the elements. A nightlight Clarington Museums hoped to preserve vanished at some point within the past year. Fires played a role in demolition of the former administration building and left marks on other structures. While high schools have frequently shown interest in visits, potential liabilities from hazards like broken glass and open manhole covers have scared them off.

As for Camp 30’s future, a request for a National Historical Designation has been filed and will be determined in July. Discussions are also underway with Parks Canada to transform the site into an urban national park like the Rouge Valley will be if all its approvals come through. Work is underway to establish a stewardship foundation that would restore and operate the site. Rutherford Conrad hopes to have that up and running within six months. She is optimistic about Camp 30’s ability to attract visitors, based on high interest when it was part of Doors Open in 2009 (1,400 people passed through the gates, with 400 more turned away) and a “Spirits of Camp 30” tour last October that included historical re-enactments. Five buildings are being recommended for preservation, while other structures, such as the natatorium (a combination swimming pool and gymnasium), are regarded as less architecturally significant or unsuited for safe reuse.


The natatorium.

If funding was available, Rutherford Conrad said she would love to brick up the buildings to ensure their survival before more interior damage can be done. A long-term plan would be developed, and ideas beyond museum use—such as community gardens and offering the cafeteria as a reception hall and restaurant space—would be explored. Anyone interested in helping the efforts to preserve Camp 30 can contact Clarington Museums and Archives.


An agreement was reached between Clarington and the developers in 2016 which transferred the buildings to the municipality. As of December 2017, efforts were underway to designate the site under the Ontario Heritage Act.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Happy Life Insurance Day!

Originally published on Torontoist on April 17, 2012.


The Globe, January 22, 1930.

Did you remember to celebrate Life Insurance Day earlier this year? Were the benefits you derived from the prudent savings of others at the top of your mind the last time you checked your safety deposit box or investment status update? Have you thanked your lucky stars and your broker that somebody else’s thriftiness has made almost everything that’s good and just in your life possible—especially those outings on the golf course? You didn’t? Shame on you!


The Globe, April 17, 1930.

Manufacturers Life was among the businesses that opened offices in the Canada Permanent Building at 320 Bay Street throughout late 1929 and early 1930. Architectural journalist Patricia McHugh had mixed feelings about the building in her book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989):

The architect said that he wanted to avoid ‘restless outlines,’ and by combining massive bulk with delicate ornament, that is exactly what he did. The two design impulses cancel one another and the Canada Permanent Building ends up with neither power nor grace—a stout matron in too-thin ingenue’s finery. Only the deeply vaulted entrance and its bold coffered ceiling speak with any vigour, pronouncing the solidity and weightiness that “The Permanent,” by its very name, undoubtedly hoped to evoke.

The interior lobby and banking halls are another matter—rich extravaganzas of satiny marble and burnished metal in the best Art Deco manner. Don’t miss the extraordinary bronze elevator doors whereon are portrayed kneeling antique figures, one holding out a model of the company’s medievally quaint former headquarters and another a replica of this skyscraper—self-congratulatory offers to the gods of commerce.

The building is currently one of the older towers in the financial district, with CIBC Mellon as its main tenant.

Two Minutes of Modernism

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2011.

Toronto1960-11 from davide tonizzo on Vimeo.

Compared to heritage properties from the 19th and early 20th centuries, Toronto’s architecture from the 1960s and 1970s doesn’t often receive much love. While some period structures like the curving towers of City Hall have become iconic, the merits of the modernist qualities of others are fiercely debated: great representation of an era or an ugly slab of concrete?

Architects Graeme Stewart and Michael McClellanhed reflected on this ambivalence we have surrounding mid-century apartment towers and commercial skyscrapers in their introduction to the book Concrete Toronto (Toronto: E.R.A./Coach House, 2007):

This important period was a time of immense prosperity, when considerable public and private investment had a major influence on shaping Canadian cities. But more significantly, we now suffer a cultural amnesia about this period; we remain critical yet uninformed about its architecture and leave its very impact on our environment without thoughtful assessment. An appreciation for the architecture of the recent past is a contemporary culture blind spot. If the making of architecture and the making of cities are inexorably linked, it is clear that the understanding of one requires the understanding of the other. A better appreciation of our recent architectural past gives us greater continuity with the intent, knowledge and ambition of previous generations and a stronger sense of our direction as our city continues to grow.

An ode to this era’s architecture, Toronto 1960-11, was recently posted online by industrial designer/filmmaker Davide Tonizzo. Starting with a subway ride into the tubular stations of University line, Tonizzo takes viewers on a two-minute tour of structures that were primarily built during the 1960s. The film includes familiar buildings (the black-clad towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the office and hotel skyscrapers south of City Hall) and those that may take a second to recognize (the glowing lights on the Arcade Building, the rippled façade of the Yorkdalebranch of the Bay).

We noticed one of our favourite small-scale examples of period architecture, the triangles pointing out from the roof of the circular section of Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent. The period feel is enhanced through lines running through the film that lend it the air of a 40-year old artefact. Tonizzo hopes that his movie “will inspire more conservation and appreciation of this great era” before someone decides any of the featured buildings meet the fate of the Bata headquarters in Don Mills or the curving floors of Riverdale Hospital.