1 — Tracking Down History
Eighteen years ago, I joined a small group searching for the notorious prison, Camp X, under the guidance of a former German prisoner-of-war who had been incarcerated there.
Today the place is almost unrecognizable. In fact, if my brother, John, had not invested five days prowling the bush, we might have never seen it again.
On Friday, August 11, two parties converged on the site of Camp 101, aka Camp X, in the bush just west of Marathon. It was a warmish day, and the earlier showers seemed to have given up. At 9:45 a.m., I and John parked at the end of Carden Road overlooking Peninsula Harbour. Minutes later, Dick and Fran Fry, Marathon residents, joined us. Our party was complete.
I started the excitement. Pulling out my daypack, I dropped a bear banger with a loaded cartridge and it exploded. Yes, I had activated the trigger lock, but the banger still discharged. I resolved to never carry a banger in my pocket again. The only damage was to the nerves of a couple of Town employees servicing the newly installed outdoor privy.
The four of us climbed a short trail leading to the bed of the Canadian Pacific Railway and then marched west, alternating between the railbed and the ATV trail that followed the tracks on the south side. The sun and the exercise soon warmed us up.
About a kilometre up the tracks, John announced we had arrived. We waited a while for the party travelling by all-terrain vehicles (aka quads) to join us. No response from my cell phone. After John had flagged the trail entrance, we crossed a clearing on the north side of the tracks. A cell call informed us the missing party was close to the tracks, around the curve further north. We continued on foot, plunging into a narrow trail being reclaimed by the bush.
On September 6, 1954, Paul Mengelberg went searching for the site of the Angler German prisoner-of-war camp where he had been an inmate from January 1941 to June 1942. He and his buddy pulled over on Highway 17 and struck out through the bush. Note that the highway, with its gravel surface, would not be completed from Nipigon to the Soo until 1960. Bieck family album.
Some people had elected to travel by ATVs to a point on the CPR. Yvon Parent had used that trail about twenty years ago when accompanying Paul Mengelberg, a former inmate of Camp 101, to the site of the Angler German POW camp. Yvon felt that his aging bones could not handle the walking. As it turned out, he would have about as much walking as everyone else had to do.
Accompanying Yvon were his young grandson, Grant Goodwin and Al Turner of Manitouwadge, and the daughter of the late Paul Mengelberg, Doris Mengelberg. Grant and Al are experienced bush historians; one of their ongoing projects is to locate long-abandoned bush camps in the Pic River watershed. John had never met Yvon or his grandson or Doris Mengelberg.
About two hundred metres from the tracks, John called a halt. We had arrived at the site of Camp 101. There was nothing to see, no indication that hundreds of men had lived here, winter and summer, while combatants waged a World War. Dick Fry, a retired forester, recalled that the area had been planted in the ’60s. Now a magnificent jack pine forest had reclaimed the old prison site.
This was John’s sixth trip to Camp 101, the second this year. He started searching for it in 2013. It had taken him three trips to relocate the site. In recent trips, he conducted intelligent search patterns. He located and flagged the barbed wire fence line of the southern boundary and most of the eastern one by finding evidences of barbed wire peeping through the moss. The western boundary was easier to identify, as we would see.
John gave us vague directions to find his flagging tape markers and headed back to link up
with the tardy travelers. We three ̶ Dick and Fran and I ̶ walked east on the ATV trail, looking for flags in the wall of mature jack pine. It didn’t take us long; one flag was just a couple of metres from the trail.
When some rusty barbed wire snared my ankle, I knew we were on track.
Fran stayed on the trail, ready to rescue us if we called out.