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Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada

Internment Operations at the Halifax Citadel during the First World War

Internment in Canada

Map of Halifax Citadel showing barbed wire enclosure for prisoners of war, 1916 Map of Halifax Citadel showing barbed wire enclosure for prisoners of war, 1916
© Parks Canada

When the First World War began in 1914, there was widespread suspicion in Canada that immigrants from enemy nations – the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, and later, Bulgaria – 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.”

Those found without work or identity papers, who failed to register or report regularly, or who tried to leave Canada without permission, could be interned. In total 8,579 men were prisoners of war in 24 camps across the country. The Halifax Citadel housed one of these camps.

Prisoners of War in Nova Scotia

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

Internment Operations at the Halifax Citadel

Prisoners of war behind barbed wire enclosure at the Halifax Citadel, ca. 1915 Prisoners of war behind barbed wire enclosure at the Halifax Citadel, ca. 1915
© Army Museum, Halifax Citadel

The internment camp at the Halifax Citadel opened on October 1, 1914 and was in operation for two years. Internees were housed in casemates fitted for this purpose in the Northeast Salient and the Cavalier Block. A barbed-wire enclosure separated them from the Canadian soldiers. At one point, the camp held just over 180 men.

By April 1915, the camp had become overcrowded and a new one opened at Amherst. 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. It closed on September 27, 1919.