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Sketch by a German officer of Camp 30, with the guard tower and barbed-wire fence in foreground.
Sketch by a German officer of Camp 30, with the guard tower and barbed-wire fence in foreground.


Building on former prison camp takes added effort Add to ...

During its 90-year history, the 106-acre farm north of Lambs Road in Clarington has had a fascinating history. John Jarry donated the property to the province in the early years of the past century for use as a reformatory - the Bowmanville boys' training school.

Right up until the early 1970s, parents would threaten their incorrigible sons with it.

For a period during the Second World War, it became a prisoner of war camp for captured German officers - Camp 30. Until recently you could find former inmates paying return visits to the property and to the Camp 30 museum in the Clarington municipal building.

For the past 25 years, it has been home to a succession of private schools that saw the opportunity to take advantage of a ready-made campus including 18 buildings, playing fields and its own generating plant.

Now Stouffville-based developer Kaitlin Group wants to turn the property into a combination housing development and historic and cultural centre. It would build a total of 320 new detached homes, townhouses and three- and four-storey condo buildings on the southern and northern portions of the site.

About 66 acres including 40 acres of flood plain and the 24-acre campus would be donated to the municipality for whatever purpose it sees fit.

Seems like a great idea, right? Clarington gets lots of new homes in an area surrounded by wooded glades, wetlands and public parkland. It also gets a collection of historic buildings, maybe a band shell, barbecue areas, a soccer field and an opportunity to preserve a site steeped in history.

Unfortunately there is a major snag in this fine vision of the future. It is not with the housing side. There is little impediment to creating 110 new homes to the south and another 210 to the north. That is a pretty straightforward proposition.

The real problem is first what to do with the 66 acres Kaitlin is willing to donate to the municipality and then how to fund their future use. Clarington is a small municipality including Bowmanville, Courtice and Newcastle, and the cost of something as straightforward as renovating and refurbishing the existing historic buildings would be backbreaking.

"It is far too big a project for the municipality to handle on its own," says Faye Langmaid, manager of special projects for Clarington. "To take it on we will definitely need federal and provincial help."

Apart from new housing, what is the municipality looking at for the site?

Ms. Langmaid commissioned a study delivered at the end of November. At that time Integrated Planning Solutions came up with a number of innovative suggestions and one very practical one. Stop calling the property Camp 30; start referring to it as the Jury Lands.

Very sensible indeed since few new home buyers would be eager to call themselves residents of Camp 30 or indeed Bowmanville boys' training school.

Of the 66 acres Kaitlin is willing to turn over about 40 acres are a gimme, Ms. Langmaid says. They are part of the flood plain of Soper Creek and Clarington would snap them up in a minute to preserve natural wetlands.

But that 24-acre campus is another matter. When Kaitlin bought the property in 2006 it was being used by the Darul Uloom Islamic school, says Kaitlin's vice-president of development, Kelvin Whalen. It was in reasonable shape then but has sat empty for coming on four years.

"We have already given permission to tear down between six and eight of the 18 buildings," Ms. Langmaid says. "They hold little historic or architectural value - buildings like old locker rooms, storage facilities and the generating plant."

The main structures, however, are well worth preserving from an architectural standpoint alone, she adds. "They represent one of the few remaining examples of the Prairie style; it was prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s."

Now down to more contentious issues: What to do with administrative buildings, dormitories, the concert hall, the infirmary and the various workshops that dot the central 24 acres?

The IPS report suggests they could make a dandy tourism and convention venue. For example, turn the dormitory into sleeping arrangements for conference goers. Take the infirmary and turn it into a hotel. Turn another near-century-old structure into a daycare.

Ferguson Hall, where the boys would present Christmas concerts and the Germans belt out Lili Marleen for their fellow PoWs, could become a theatre with outdoor concert stage. Bowmanville does need a theatre, the report says.

Various other buildings could become the nucleus of a thriving arts and crafts community. Indeed, the Jury Lands could fulfill a panoply of cultural, social and economic needs the report says.

I offer no comment on whether conventioneers would be eager to spend their nights in space formerly assigned to reform school inmates or prisoners of war, nor whether tourists and business travellers would be lining up to check into a century-old hospital.

I would hope, however, that the fate of the sections of the Jury Lands devoted to housing would not hinge on the ability of Clarington to decide what to do with and then get financing for those old buildings.

The Greater Toronto Area is fast running out of land for low-rise housing. The future of a reformatory and PoW camp can wait.

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