How Camp X Worked

Camp X After World War II
A reporter interviews former Russian cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko, who defected to Canada a few days after the end of World War II with info on Soviet spies. Gouzenko was interrogated at Camp X. Bettmann/Getty Images

Camp X closed in April 1944. It had served its purpose, and the personnel were needed elsewhere. The instructors returned to Britain or the U.S., and the Canadian staff moved on to other jobs in Canada. It's impossible to know how many men were trained there — records were kept secret, destroyed or scattered across three different nations' bureaucracies — but estimates range from a few hundred to 2,000 or 3,000 [source: Montgomery]. The camp's training regimen became so infamous and prestigious that far more men claimed to have trained there than actually did.

However, the buildings still existed after the camp closed, and they found some use during the Cold War. Immediately after the end of the World War II, a cipher clerk named Igor Gouzenko defected from the Soviet Union to Canada, bringing with him information on Soviet secret agents. British and American intelligence officials interviewed him at Camp X, where he was safe from potential interference from Soviet agents.

Control of the Hydra station was transferred to the Canadian military. Hydra functioned as a signal intercepting station as the final months of World War II played out against Japan, and it was used to intercept Soviet radio transmissions during the early years of the Cold War. By 1969, the station's equipment was no longer sophisticated, and the site was officially decommissioned and sold to local municipal governments.

Amid concerns that the camp might contain unexploded ordnance (weapons that did not explode but still pose a risk of doing so) from all the explosive training, the Canadian army bulldozed almost all the buildings directly into Lake Ontario in the late 1970s. Only one building survived: part of one of the barracks, which was moved and used as a storage building by an animal shelter before a nearby college began restoring it [source: Calzavara].

Today, Intrepid Park (named after William Stephenson's wartime moniker) marks the location of Camp X. The park is only a sliver of the original 260-acre (105-hectare) site, which is covered by warehouses. A plaque commemorates the men who trained there and what they accomplished in the war, and every November a Canadian veterans' group holds a memorial on the site.

Author's Note: How Camp X Worked

This was a fascinating slice of World War II history I'd never heard of, despite the site of Camp X being within a few hours' drive of my house. The details of the ruthless methods taught at the school are awesome in the context of World War II, since they were being used to battle the Allies truly despicable fascist enemies. It's a bit less exciting when you consider how those methods were exported and transferred to support the imperialist agendas of Britain and the U.S. in the subsequent decades. History never happens in a vacuum.

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  • Bicknell, Robin (producer) & Alex McIntosh (director). "World War II Secret Spy School." yap films. 2014.
  • Calzavara, Rebecca. "Remaining Camp X building in Whitby, Ont." The Chronicle. Oct. 28, 2016. (May 22, 2017)
  • (May 15, 2017)
  • CBC. "Igor Gouzenko obituary." June 29, 1982. (May 20, 2017)
  • Chambers, Joh Whiteclay II. "OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II." U.S. National Park Service. 1998. (May 16, 2017)
  • CIA. "What was OSS?" (May 17, 2017)
  • Clibbon, Jennifer. "A fallen hero, a daughter left behind." CBC News. May 4, 2010. (May 24, 2017)
  • Montgomery, Marc. "History: December 6, 1941 – War, spies, even James Bond." Radio Canada International. Dec. 6, 2016. (May 15, 2017)
  • Parks Canada. "Secret Intelligence Activities at Camp X." (May 17, 2017)
  • Rigden, Denis. "How to be a Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual." Dundurn. 2004.
  • Secret Intelligence Service. "SIS: Our History." (May 16, 2017)
  • Stafford, David. "Camp X." Dodd, Mead & Company. 1987.
  • The Washington Post. "John Bross Dies at 79." Oct. 17, 1990. (May 15, 2017)