Can a German prison of war camp be a young girl’s happy memory?

The contrast or what the training school was then what it looks like today. Colour image: Jackie Graves Black and white image: Vintage Bowmanville Photo credit: Vintage Bowmanville & Jackie Graves

When talking about Bowmanville’s notorious Camp 30, many local residents may have thoughts of the Second World War, given it was a prisoner of war (POW) camp for Nazi generals.

What some may be less familiar with is the land’s history as an educational and training institution.

Opened in 1925, it was called the Bowmanville Boys Training School.

Raye Davies-Budd has many positive memories from when the school was operational. Her father, Horris Brown, who preferred to go by Bob because he “hated his name,” worked there as a guard in the ’60s and left around 1965.

“I don’t know why he chose to go by Bob,” Davies-Budd says with a light-hearted chuckle, adding it was his job to look after the boys while they were in their dorms and make sure they were OK.

While the intentions of the school were good, by 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Province of Ontario on behalf of former training school attendees.

In an interview with Kenyon Wallace of the Toronto Star, Steven Greenwood alleges he was sexually, physically and emotionally abused when the Bowmanville Boys institution was called the Pine Ridge training school in the late ’70s.

His testimony, along with the testimonies of many other men and women, claim Ontario training schools have a long, gruesome history of abuse.

However, the concept of the school began with good intentions.

John H. H. Jury, a wealthy pharmacist and horticulturist, donated 300 acres of land to the Province of Ontario in 1922.

The province used this land to build the reform school in Bowmanville. It was considered an impressive campus, consisting of six buildings including a cafeteria, lodging and even featured an indoor pool and gym.

Lynn Philip Hodgson, an acclaimed expert on Camp X, the notorious spy camp in Whitby, as well as Camp 30, says the Ontario government built the school to manage the issue of delinquent boys under the age of 16.

“These kids caught stealing a car would be put into one of these ‘special schools’,” says Hodgson. “They would teach them how to be a good person.”

However, Hodgson says when night rolled around during its operation in 1925, the boys at the Bowmanville Boys Training School were “locked down.”

He describes the windows of the dorms as being “very high up and small.”

In the morning, the boys would be carted off to breakfast and then immediately to school.

“It was jail for them,” Hodgson says.

In 1941, the campus was taken over by the Ontario government before being converted into a POW camp for Nazi generals. In its time, it housed infamous names including U-Boat Commanders Otto Kretschmer and Wolfgang Hevda.

Kretschmer was of particular priority to the British as he was one of the best marine captains of the war, according to Hodgson, author and historian.

“Nobody came close to sinking the tonnage (weight of ships) that he had sunk,” Hodgson says about Kretschmer. “It was because of that the Canadians and the British wanted to get him far away from the war.”

Kretschmer and Heyda went on to be the subject of a (failed) elaborate escape attempt named Operation Kiebitz in September, 1943.

As a reform school, escape attempts weren’t uncommon either. While she is still unsure if any abuse occurred, Davies-Budd is well aware of the current claims.

“The odd boy took off and was around again the next day, that’s it,” she says. “It didn’t come to my attention until recently, and I’ve been around Bowmanville since 1960.”

Davies-Budd says during her father’s career, he obtained authorization to sign out some of the boys and bring them home for Sunday dinners. She says many seldom received visitors.

“We would all share a traditional English roast beef dinner,” Davies-Budd reminisces. “Many of the children didn’t have parents who wanted to see them, whether they just didn’t want to or didn’t have the money.”

She says her father would often talk to them over dinner and offer them guidance to better their lives. Davies-Budd grew close to the boys herself by allowing them to write letters to her, effectively making them “pen pals.”

The fond memories Davies-Budd has of her father’s time with the school are a stark contrast to media reports of alleged abuse.

The school has gone by many names, from the Bowmanville Boys Training School in the ’20s to Camp 30 in the ’40s to Pine Ridge in the ’60s.

However, the memories Davies-Budd shares aren’t the same allegedly experienced by some of the residents of the schools, who have launched legal action.

The Bowmanville school wasn’t the only institution to come under fire. In 2018, a class action lawsuit was set into motion by Kirk Keeping, who alleges he was abused at one of 13 training schools in Ontario.

The lawsuit includes 13 institutions across the province. It represents “all persons who were alive as at Dec. 8, 2015, who resided at any of the training schools between Jan. 1, 1953, and April 2, 1984, during the time periods set out for each facility,” according to a report from the certification order from Superior Court Justice Danial Newton in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Some settlements have been reached with former residents of the St. John’s Training School for Boys, St. Joseph’s Training School for Boys, and the Grandview Training School, according to a report by Newswire.

However, Hodgson further expands the claims, saying the abuse wasn’t just physical. He says he’s interviewed survivors in the past who have reported sedation by use of drugs.

Davies-Budd says she’s shocked by the claims because of her positive connections to the school. A family friend, John Noble, also worked there and Davies-Budd assures abuse was never a part of any of their conversations.

She supposes “it could be possible,” but says none of the boys who wrote her ever mentioned any abuse.

Once the school was taken over by the government in 1941, Hodgson says the boys were sent off to neighbouring farms to make room for the Nazi prisoners.

“They asked the farmers to take in these kids and use them for whatever they want. Baling hay, keep them busy,” says Hodgson.”But they basically had to stay with them for the remainder of their term.”

Davies-Budd’s father got permission to foster one of the boys, from the school in 1963.

Davies-Budd only knew the boy as Randy and describes the two of them having a fond, sibling-like relationship.

“I used to annoy him like my little brother,” she says with a gentle laugh.

Like her father, Davies-Budd fostered children and adopted a foster child, Shawn. She attributes her connection to her son, who is Ojibwe, as the reason she won’t fully dispute the claims against the school.

“I know a lot about residential schools because of my son, so I always had my ears and eyes open to these things,” she says.

Today, Davies-Budd is in her 70s and the historic campus is now derelict, tagged with graffiti, and awaiting an uncertain future.

It was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2013 and is currently owned by Kaitlin Developments.

Davies-Budd continues to live her life with fond memories while making new ones. Gleefully, she says her son, Shawn, recently participated in a half-marathon in Peterborough.

She says she was “very proud” when her son was among the first to cross the line.

When asked for any final comments, Davies-Budd pauses and remarks one last time about the alleged abuse surrounding the school.

“I’m not saying it didn’t happen,” she says. “Nothing surprises me these days, being as old as I am.”

Today, the lawsuit remains active, according to the law firm representing the plaintiffs, Koskie Minsky.

As warm as Davies-Budd’s memories are, the historic land where Camp 30 stood just may be overshadowed by the tragic recollection of those who had to call it home.