Letters from the Boiler House: Conflict and Communication in a Second World War Canadian Internment Camp
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In March of 1941, two members of the Veterans Guard of Canada were court martialled for conduct “to the prejudice of good order and Military Discipline.” Their crime: passing letters, “illicit correspondence,” between a small group of “enemy alien” internees, known as the Musketeers, in an internment camp in rural Quebec, and a teenage girl named Winkie in Montreal. The case of Winkie Henson and the Musketeers shows the Canadian internment camp during the Second World War to be a complex, often liminal, space of connection and conflict. It illuminates the tension inherent between official regulation and human action, pitting the needs of civilians, Canadian or otherwise, against governing powers. It highlights the role of correspondence in a pre-internet world and shows how relationships could begin and end by pen and paper. In later reflections and representations of the case, it also shows the selective nature of memory and how our relationship with the past is shaped by both time and emotion. Most importantly, the story of illicit correspondence presents the internment camp and, more widely, the Canadian home front, as a space in which strict social boundaries became fluid and malleable in a wartime context, to both the benefit and cost of young romantic prospects, hopeful fathers, social elites, and supposed “enemy aliens.” In this, the case, told as a microhistory, adds further complexity to the view of Canadian internment camps as simultaneous spaces of oppression and opportunity for those within and beyond their barbed wire bounds.
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Gillian Wagenaar (2023). Letters from the Boiler House: Conflict and Communication in a Second World War Canadian Internment Camp. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/20075