Nov 9, 2012

POW Camp 132 in Medicine Hat, Alberta

It depends on who you talk to, but there are many people (including a surprising amount of local residents) who aren't aware that Medicine Hat, Alberta was home to a prisoner of war camp during World War II. It was located at the site of what is now Medicine Hat's Exhibition and Stampede grounds. Perhaps lesser known however, is that Camp 132 (officially known as the Medicine Hat Prisoner of War Facility) was one of the largest P.O.W. camps in North America and brought thousands of Nazi prisoners into this remote southeast corner of Alberta.

pow camp 132 medicine hat alberta

Opened in 1943, Camp 132 spanned 50 hectares and was supposedly capable of holding over 12,000 prisoners. This is especially incredible when you realize that the population of Medicine Hat in 1943 was about the same. With Britain fearful of a German invasion, they sent over 37,000 prisoners of war to remote camps across Canada. The two largest camps were in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. Camp 132 was noted for holding many high ranking Nazi officers, and remained in operation until 1946.

Many of the P.O.W.'s were able to work outside of the camp doing farm labour and assisting local businesses. Medalta Potteries was one of the factories noted for their role in employing P.O.W.'s from Camp 132. Despite these agreements, there was still a lot of conflict inside the camp between hard-line Nazis and lesser members of the SS. Two prisoners were murdered here at the hands of fellow inmates for speaking out against Nazism and Hitler. With such a large inmate population, much of the camp still operated under the hierarchy of the officers.

pow camp 132 medicine hat alberta
German Prisoners of War at Camp #132.
pow camp 132 medicine hat alberta
Treatment of inmates from the guards within the camp was fair, and some of the inmates even returned to Medicine Hat after the war because they found the conditions and opportunity favorable. Many of the P.O.W.s who worked the fields developed a close bond with the families who were desperate for strong farm hands during those years. Naturally, many of these relationships carried on after the war had ended.

Today the only remnant of Camp 132 is the drill hall (also known as Rhine Hall). It is visible in a number of the archival images I posted below, and I enjoyed photographing the location with glimpses of the prison camp in mind. Rhine Hall now holds commercial booths every year during the Exhibition and Stampede. 
It's certainly a stark contrast to what the location would've been like in the 1940s. Despite the decades gone by, there's no question that Medicine Hat's P.O.W. camp remains a captivating point in our local and provincial history.  

View more archival images of POW Camp 132 here.

pow camp 132 medicine hat alberta archival
POW Camp #132 ca. 1940s

drill hall pow camp 132 medicine hat alberta

POW Camp #132 canteen tickets.

Hockey game at POW Camp #132.

POW Camp #132 ca. 1940s

pow camp 132 drill hall medicine hat alberta

German Prisoners of War at Camp #132.

POW Camp #132 ca. 1940s


Anonymous said...

This is fantastic Luke. I've always been fascinated by this too. Our community is so rich in historical stories, one could write complete movie scripts based on many things that have happened here. I enjoyed revisiting this through your lens! Great work.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this, Luke! Now I have an idea on what I had only known through stories.
My grandfather used to be in the camp as a POW and always talked very highly about the time he had to spend there.
He is 91 now and still has tears in his eyes when he speaks of those times...
I will show him your pictures!
Susanne (from Germany)

Vivien said...

Hi Luke - we just came across 14 drawings, many from camp 132 with one drawing having a name and date. I would love to contact "Suzanne from Germany" who posted a comment and get more information. We are just starting to learn about this place via the drawings so our knowledge is limited but ..... we would like to add anything possible to the history. You can contact me through my webiste,

Collin Howie said...

Hi Luke, My grandfather was a guard at this camp. He was a tailor by trade and taught many of the POW's those skills. It's ironic that he was a POW in WW 1 and barely survived from starvation but as a guard in WW 2 held no animosity and befriended many of the prisoners Thanks for sharing the pictures.

Edna said...

After the camp closed, many of the buildings were sold. My father bought one of the pow barracks and moved it onto our farm located 14 miles south of Medicine Hat. The building was split with 2/3's becoming the barn and the other 1/3'd across the yard was put onto a basement. A porch was added, the exterior stuccoed and that was the home where I grew up. The buildings are still there. The barn was always green even though Dad wanted to paint it red, there was never enough time in the summer to tackle that large project.

Shannon said...

Hi Luke, in your article you state that the only remnant left from the POW camp is the drill hall located in the fair grounds. well just to let you know that Patterson Armoury which is located behind the fair ground off of Cuyler Rd is also one of the buildings used during that time. It was the entertainment hall where prisoners would put on plays and such, the stage was only removed in 2007 to make room for new office space, you can still see some of the tackle that was used for curtains and props. The Armoury has been the home of the South Alberta light Horse Army Reserve unit since the 60's and we have a museum which tells the story of Medicine Hat's military history which dates back to the louis riel rebellion and includes the POW camp. Viewing of the museum is by appointment only but If you or anyone else would like to visit please call us at 503 504 3775 and ask for Major Scott Payne.

Cheers Doug Fode

rjp4121 said...

Very father was at the Medicine Hat camp and he spoke of how 10000 prisoners levelled a large hill in the middle of the camp with picks and shovels. He was later transferred to Lethbridge and was in charge of organizing prisoners to work on area farms. After the war he returned to Vauxhall to work on a farm there. We eventually settled in Creston BC where our neighbour was a guard at the Lethbridge camp..they became great friends.
R. J. Pelzmann

Steven Parragh said...

My father in law was a guard at this camp. He had said that the majority of the sailors off of the battleship Bismark were intermed there. We have a few items that he had recieved from the prisoners there. One of there was a model of the Bismark that was constructed from wood and built inside a listerine bottle.