By Submitted Article on March 17, 2020.
By Benjamin Weistra
In the first month of the First World War, Canadian military officials began planning for an internment camp, to be located at the Exhibition Grounds in Lethbridge.
Renovations were completed to convert the horse stables and poultry building into living quarters, and to add a barbed wire fence. The facility was opened on Sept. 30, 1914, and in mid-1915 it became a first-class camp designated for non-working prisoners who were primarily German or German-speaking Austrians.
The Lethbridge Internment Camp had a reputation for providing fair conditions for its prisoners. Sources note that the camp had luxuries such as proper sanitation, baths with hot and cold water, waste receptacles and wash houses.
Prisoners also had a degree of freedom. Letters from the camp note instances where they were able to enter town under supervision and go to bars or movie theatres. Within the camp, they could participate in football (soccer), quoits, gymnastics, skating and lawn tennis. These activities were reported in the Calgary Daily Herald and the Lethbridge Daily Herald, which were highly critical given the wartime restrictions other citizens faced.
However, there were also cases of poor treatment at the Lethbridge Internment Camp. In a 1915 Chicago Tribune article, a man named Caserai, who claimed to be an Austrian prisoner interned in Lethbridge, alleged that guards had used torture in the camp. Officials dismissed the claims as “ridiculous.”
There is also mixed evidence about prisoners working. On July 15, 1916 American consul Harold Clum reported that prisoners in the Lethbridge camp “do not work,” but just two days earlier the Lethbridge Daily Herald had reported the escape of a prisoner named A. Ellisky from a road gang near Raymond – suggesting that at least some prisoners were required to do manual labour.