Picture of the camp in 1944
A local historian has shared a story unknown to many people in Southeastern Manitoba. About 67 years ago, World War II created the need for a local Prisoner Of War camp. German prisoners, who were captured overseas, were brought to the camp near La Rochelle, about 6 miles south of St Pierre. The camp was located on what is now a soybean field just north of the intersection of Highway 59 and 23.
The camp was just north of Highway 23 (dirt road was Highway #59)
Gabby Catellier, who was a seven year old boy when the camp was set up on his family farm in 1943, shares some of his memories with us...
STOL: What was the camp for and who were the prisoners?
Gabby: They were mostly from Germany, and the prison was all tents, they lived in tents. There was one big one for mealtime, and one for recreation. They were all men. Some were students, in fact there were 2 prisoners that were directly from France but they were studying in Germany, and that is how they got caught with them.
Gabby Catellier recalls some of his memories of the POW camp
STOL: Why was the camp set up in this part of the province?
Gabby: The reason is there were quite a few acres of sugar beets in that area and everything was done by hand. My dad had a connection with a Manitoba Sugary. The camp was a work camp and the prisoners provided the labour. It was very nice to have 200 prisoners all work in the field. They had 50 Canadian Soldiers looking after them, and it suited the Manitoba Sugary because all the work was done by hand and they did good work. The first year they were locked up in a big fence 6 feet high with barbwire all around. I recall two trying to take their life, but the second year they were given more freedom and allowed to walk around outside the camp. It was much better, they produced better, they were happy. In fact when the War ended some didn't want to go back, but they were told they have to go back to Germany. It was pleasant to work with them, they were happy guys. Although they were prisoners, they did a good job on the beets.
STOL: What do you remember about these prisoners?
Gabby: Once in the season they would get their mail. My mom had the post office in La Rochelle so she would put the bag on my little wagon and I'd bring it there, they practically ate me, they were all around they wanted to get their mail. They were very happy when their mail would come. I had dug a hole under the fence and I would go sit with them every night. We knew when the soldiers would come every night with their spotlights, and there was benches so I would lay on the floor and the prisoners would hide me with their legs so the guards couldn't see me. I never got caught.
STOL: Was this free labour for your family’s farm?
Gabby: If I remember right from Dad, it cost him $2.50 a day. $0.50 would go to the prisoner and $2.00 would go to the government.
STOL: Was your family in charge of supplying the camp or taking care of it?
Gabby: No, we would go with Dad to pick up garbage everyday to feed our pigs, like the table garbage. Dad had the flowing well so they would come with a truck and tank and pick up water everyday. It was the supply for the prisoners and soldiers.