Oshawa’s spy camp and secret agent

Photo by Erin Williams

Jacqueline Bieler, daughter of secret agent Major Guy Bieler.


Open Doors tour of Camp X
Open Doors tour of Camp X

When she was only three years old, Jacqueline Bieler’s father, Gustave (Guy) Bieler, went off to war and never returned home. It was September 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland and started the war against Germany. Two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany. On September 10, 1939, Canada agreed to join and support Britain’s declaration of war.  Many Canadian soldiers fought in the war, and by the time it was over in 1944, over 45,000 Canadians had died.

Major Bieler was sent to France to become part of the French Resistance. He organized bombings of Nazi railroads and factories.  In 1944, he was caught, severely tortured, and eventually sent to a concentration camp in Germany, where he was executed.

Jacqueline Bieler lives in Ottawa. She wanted to learn about the father she never knew.  In 1957, seventeen years after her father had left home, she went looking for answers. She was twenty years old and it had only been twelve years since the war had ended.

“I talked to soldiers he had trained with and wrote notes and notes of what I had learned,” says Bieler. “I had never intended to write. I had made many notes over the years and just put them together to tell my father’s story … I have grandkids, it’s important for them to know about their history also.” Bieler wrote the book, Out of Night and Fog: The Story of Guy Bieler, Special Operations Executive Published by Cef Books in January 2008.

Like Major Guy Bieler, many other Canadians were trained to be secret agents during the war. Many trained at Camp X on the border between the city of Oshawa and Whitby.

Major Bieler was one of 25 Canadians recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was trained for high-risk situations and secret operations on the shores of Lake Ontario. In other words, he was a secret agent. His training included weapon handling, unarmed combat, silent killing, sabotage, explosives, and Morse Code.

Bieler is considered one the greatest and bravest heroes out of the Canadian agents, according to Lynn Philip Hodgson, author of the book Inside Camp X. Hodgson says Bieler’s effective strategies and personality gave him an advantage. Even after several, brutal torture sessions Bieler never released any information to the enemy, not even his real name.

Hodgson has been researching Camp X for more than four decades. “I could talk about Camp X for hours and hours and hours,” says Hodgson. “The training that happened here was so intense … the agents selected were warned they only had about a 50 per cent chance of making it through their missions alive.”

Hodgson gives tours of Camp X for the annual Doors Open Oshawa event. Every year for the past ten years, history buffs, families, locals, and out-of-towners join Hodgson on a tour of the area where Camp X was situated before it was bulldozed into Lake Ontario in 1969. The only thing that remains on the site is a red stone poking up from the ground. Hodgson speculates this was a stair.

The entire area has been leveled, leaving no indication the spy camp ever existed. All that remains is Intrepid Park on the border of Whitby-Oshawa and a monument that reads, “On this site British Security Co-ordination operated Special Training School No. 103 and Hydra. S.T.S. 103 trained allied agents in the techniques of secret warfare for the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) Branch of the British Intelligence Service.”

Joseph Bouchard is an Oshawa resident who took the Doors Open tour for the first time this year. He liked hearing the details of the camp from Hodgson, leading the tour.  “It’s crazy how so many people just don’t know about it,” Bouchard says. “I wish I had a chance to take this tour during high school and learn this history about the town I live in before today. It’s a part of our history. Kids today might take a stronger interest in history if they knew this camp was here.”

According to Inside Camp X, the Camp’s location was chosen for many reasons but mainly because the shoreline was thirty miles straight across the lake from the United States: ideal for bouncing radio signals from Europe and South American headquarters. During World War II, HAM radios or amateur radios were used to communicate wirelessly around the world. HAM Operators at were stationed in the communications facility at Camp X and used transmitters to send and receive coded messages from Britain behind enemy lines.

The trainees at Camp X were unaware of the missions that were heading their way until after their training was complete. After ten weeks of training, many ‘special agents’ were sent over to Britain and France to become a part of the SOE, just like Major Bieler.

Back in Ottawa, Bieler’s daughter Jacqueline has just returned from Paris, France where she gave a speech in honour of her father. This year, 23 Canadians were recognized for their bravery, including her father. Bieler says she was happy to see friends and grandchildren of the soldiers were present to learn about their family members.

“It was great to see people come to honour and remember that group. May it be their parent, friend, or distant family, a lot of Canadians were there and recognized for being a big part of our history,” says Bieler. “I was honoured and more than happy to write and read my speech for them.”  Bieler continues to share the story of her father to her grandchildren, and to anyone who interested in learning about the special agents of World War II.

“They are secret agents,” says Bieler. “They don’t like to be called spies but they were

skilled and trained to kill at a moment’s notice.”