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Amherst Internment Camp was an internment camp that existed from 1914 to 1919 in Amherst, Nova Scotia. It was the largest prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Canada during World War I; a maximum of 853 prisoners were housed at one time at the old Malleable Iron foundry on the corner of Hickman and Park Streets.[1] The most famous prisoner of war at the camp was Leon Trotsky.


Part of a series on the
Military history of
Nova Scotia
Citadel hill.jpg
Battle of Port Royal 1690
Conquest of Acadia 1710
Battle of Jeddore Harbour 1722
Northeast Coast Campaign 1745
Battle of Grand Pré 1747
Dartmouth Massacre 1751
Bay of Fundy Campaign 1755
Fall of Louisbourg 1758
Headquarters established for Royal Navy's North American Station 1758
Burying the Hatchet ceremony 1761
Battle of Fort Cumberland 1776
Raid on Lunenburg 1782
Halifax Impressment Riot 1805
Establishment of New Ireland 1812
Capture of USS Chesapeake 1813
Battle at the Great Redan 1855
Siege of Lucknow 1857
CSS Tallahassee Escape 1861
Departing Halifax for Northwest Rebellion 1885
Departing Halifax for the Boer War 1899
Imprisonment of Leon Trotsky 1917
Jewish Legion formed 1917
Sinking of HMHS Llandovery Castle 1918
Battle of the St. Lawrence 1942–44
Sinking of SS Point Pleasant Park 1945
Halifax VE-Day Riot 1945
Walter Callow Wheelchair Bus established 1947
Notable military regiments
Mi'kmaq militias 1677-1779
Acadian militias 1689-1761
40th Regiment 1717-57
Troupes de la marine 1717-58
Gorham's Rangers 1744-62
Danks' Rangers 1756-62
84th Regiment of Foot 1775-84
Royal Fencible American 1775-83
Royal Nova Scotia Volunteers 1775-83
King's Orange Rangers 1776-83
1st Field Artillery 1791-present
Royal Nova Scotia 1793-1802
Nova Scotia Fencibles 1803-16
The Halifax Rifles (RCAC) 1860-present
The Princess Louise Fusiliers 1867-present
78th Highlanders 1869-71
Cape Breton Highlanders 1871-present
Nova Scotia Rifles 1914-19
No. 2 Construction Battalion 1916-19
West Nova Scotia 1916-present
The Nova Scotia Highlanders 1954-present

When the First World War began in 1914, there was widespread suspicion in Canada that immigrants from enemy might be disloyal. In response, the federal government passed regulations allowing it to monitor and intern anyone who had not become naturalized British subjects. These people were labelled "enemy aliens." In total 8,579 men were prisoners of war in 24 camps across the country.[2]

The Amherst camp was one of three internment camps in Nova Scotia. The others were on Melville Island in the Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbour and in Citadel Hill (Fort George). Unlike the rest of Canada, where internees were mostly of Eastern European origin, the internees in Nova Scotia were mainly German reservists.[3]

The Camp

Leon Trotsky in 1918, Prisoner of War.

The Camp consisted of a building that was 100 feet wide by a quarter of a mile long. The south end was used as the German Officers' quarters, the camp hospital and the medical inspection room. The north end housed the prisoners quarters and their washrooms. Further to the north, close to Patterson Street, was the large mess hall, recreation room, kitchen, and pantry stores.[4] Of these eight hundred prisoners, about five hundred were sailors from German boats sunk by the British; about two hundred were workers caught by the war in Canada, and a hundred more were officers and civilian prisoners of the bourgeois class.[5]

By April 1915, the Halifax camp had become overcrowded and a new one opened at Amherst. The first prisoners of the camp arrived from Halifax on April 17, 1915 aboard armed trains. A total of 640 sailors of the captured vessel SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The Citadel now housed only first-class prisoners of war (officers) and Amherst housed those considered second-class (reservists from the ranks and enemy aliens). When the Citadel camp closed on October 3, 1916, its prisoners were transferred to Amherst. At one point toward the end of the war, the Amherst camp held 854 internees and was the largest in Canada.

On June 25, 1915 a group of prisoners refused to enter the compound upon a guard's order. The riot that ensued resulted in one guard being injured and one prisoner was shot and killed and four others were wounded. An inquiry found that discipline had been lacking and the camp commander, Major G.R. Oulton, a veteran of the Boer War, was replaced by Colonel Arthur Henry Morris.

Trotsky and his family were living in exile in New York during WW I and decided in 1917 he wanted to return to Russia. His return ship the SS Kristianiafjord (1912) temporarily docked in the Halifax Harbour. On April 3, 1917, Trotsky was detained at the Citadel, and shortly thereafter was brought to the POW camp in Amherst. (His wife Natalia Sedova and children remained in Halifax at a hotel, reporting daily to the police station.)[6] Trotsky referred to the camp as a concentration camp.[7]

He wrote about the British commanders' attempts to block his mobilization of the other prisoners to join the Russian Revolution. He writes:

The whole month I was there was like one continuous mass meeting. I told the prisoners about the Russian revolution, about Liebknecht, about Lenin ... the British colonel ... forbade me to make any more public speeches. But this did not happen until the last few days of our stay at the camp, and served only to cement my friendship with the sailors and workers, who responded to the colonel's order by a written protest bearing five hundred and thirty signatures. A plebiscite like this, carried out in the very face of Sergeant Olsen's heavy-handed supervision, was more than ample compensation for all the hardships of the Amherst imprisonment.

During the four years of the camp, six prisoners successfully escaped while approximately eleven others had died during their internment because of accident, or ill health. A tombstone, located at the Amherst Cemetery, marks the death of these POWs. Their bodies were returned to Germany in 1919. The Camp closed on September 27, 1919.[8]


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