THE PRIVATE EMPIRE WE’RE GIVING THE ARMY
Trained for almost a century in overgrown Boy Scout camps, our soldiers now have Gagetown, N.B., with $50 millions worth of elbowroom, hiding space for secrets and a built-in city of its own
By DAVID MacDONALD
WHEN IT was revealed two years ago that a site had finally been picked in New Brunswick for a new army camp a distinct sigh of relief swept through military headquarters in Ottawa. The camp was so big that it would rank sixth among New Brunswick industries. “Now,” an infantry colonel remarked to a reporter, toasting the announcement with a Scotch-and-soda, “now we’ll have some elbowroom at last.”
His hallelujah was understandable: until now this nation of wide-open spaces, having packed soldiers off to four hot wars and one cold war since 1867, has never given its army room enough to train even the smallest of major formations an infantry brigade—to full combat fitness. The navy has had two oceans to work with and the come-lately air force its wild blue yonder; but the army, in the words of the same officer, “has been penned up too long in overgrown Boy Scout camps.”
In both world wars Canadian troops were molded into brigade, then division shape on the smallish island of Britain; strangely, no camp at home was big enough to train’ them in a body. Came the Korean War, Canada gave basic training to three battalions of volunteers at home (in widely separated camps) but had to send them to Fort Lewis, Wash, a sprawling U. S. base to learn how to fight as a brigade group. With teamwork being the essence of success in battle, this might be likened to training
the backfielders and linemen of a football team on separate gridirons, then introducing the boys just before the first game. Even in this time of ersatz and uneasy peace, our 27th Brigade had to be trained where it’s now based—in Germany.
Korea, our decision to contribute troops to the NATO army in Europe, the buildup of Canada’s largest peacetime army (50,000 men) and the advent of modern long-range weapons all pointed up the army’s crying need for more room. Gagetown is it.
At this writing, Camp Gagetown is little more than a vast egg-shaped parcel of real estate covering 427 square miles of southern New Brunswick, between Fredericton, the provincial capital, and the salty old port city of Saint John. On it hundreds of farms, tilled since the days of the United Empire Loyalists, lie deserted. Here an old hand plow rests in an unfinished furrow; there a scarecrow flaps its rags at a passing column of soldiers. Dirt roads wind through dark woods past ghost villages whose people have sold out to Ottawa and moved on. Numerals painted on each empty house, each school, church, barn and privy signify that the army has taken over. Soon the quiet of the countryside will be shattered by the chatter of machine-gun fire, the whoosh of rockets and the distant rumble of artillery.
For what the army plans to make of these pastoral surroundings, two years and $50 million hence, is Canada’s biggest
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The Private Empire We're Giving the Army
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school of warfare, equipped to handle upwards of 30,000 men—two infantry divisions—if conditions in this jittery world make it necessary.
The transformation has begun. Last spring fleets of bulldozers toppled huge timber stands and created a 3,000-acre clearing at the northern end of the training area, about. 12 miles below Fredericton. Here, by the end of 1956, the Department of National Defense expects to have a permanent camp headquarters of 125 buildings and 5,000 officers and men. Within walking distance of it will be a tidy landscaped army town of 10,000 soldiers, wives and children. Built overlooking the Oromocto and St. John Rivers, it will have schools, churches, shopping centres, paved streets, parks and playgrounds. In population it will be almost as big as Fredericton. But, unlike other towns, it will have no factories nor towering smokestacks. Its sole industry will be the army and its sole occupation army work.
Camp Gagetown got its baptism of fire last June when Major-General J. M. (Rocky) Rockingham, a veteran of Italy and Korea, led the newly formed 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade into the south end of the training area for a month of manoeuvres. As the army rolled in with its lorries, jeeps and 38-ton Sherman tanks, a corps of civilian lawyers put the finishing touches to one of the most complex land-purchase deals in Canadian history. In acquiring what land the army wanted, Ottawa had to seize then pay for 1,052 properties and uproot more than 2,000 people—the biggest evacuation of Maritimers since the Acadians were expelled two centuries ago.
Their land, now the army’s, encompasses an area four times as big as Camp Borden, Ont., and twice as large as Camp Wainwright, Alta., until now the largest army post in Canada. When, recently, Lieut.-Colonel FYeeman Waugh, commander of Camp Gagetown, referred to it as a “place,” a fellow officer protested, “Place? It’s an empire!”
But what makes Gagetown unique, apart from its size, is its scenery. In the past Canadian army camps have almost invariably been stuck up on flat stretches of sand, seemingly on the theory that on land where nothing else can grow a soldier can. Gagetown is radically different. It combines open fields and rolling hills with swamps, dense bushlands, rivers, lakes and modest mountains. Its climate, equally varied, ranges from the sweltering 90s in summer to sub-zero weather in winter.
This pleases the army brass. On a tour of inspection one drizzling day last spring, Gen. Rockingham slogged through mud, brushed through packed thickets, climbed up and down steep hills and, staring at other challenging terrain, was heard to mutter, “Wonderful!”
The prospect of green recruits having to do the same gratified him as a practical infantryman. “It is essential,? Rockingham has said, “that manoeuvres be conducted over ground which is similar to that on which the formation may have to fight in earnest.” Accordingly, it is no coincidence that in many respects Gagetown’s training area resembles the North German plain, probably the first battleground in any shooting war with Russia. With space to spare, the army will also be able to give its trainees a corn-
plete course in formation fighting. Thousands will learn at Gagetown to fight as a team.
“For the first time,” says Col. H. E. T. Doucet, chief-of-staff of the army’s Eastern Command, “we’ll be able to train whole divisions in one place. That’s what makes Gagetown so important to us—-to the whole country, in fact.” Eventually the 1st Canadian Division, now a-building, will be stationed at Gagetown.
Camp Gagetown, a fighting name, was borrowed from the nearby community of Gagetown, founded by the
United Empire Loyalists and named for General Thomas Gage who commanded British forces in America in 1763. Rewarded with farm lands in New Brunswick for being true to the crown when other colonials were not so true, the Loyalists arrived in horse carts and made their first homes in tents.
When the 3rd Brigade’s 3,600 men moved into the same area this summer they came in a long motorcade and settled down to living under “active service conditions,” i.e., in tents. On hand to greet them, standing outside
his make-shift headquarters—the post office of erstwhile Armstrong’s Corner —was Camp Commander Waugh.
Waugh is a big chunky man of 44 with a sharp nose, advancing girth and a graying hairline that is on the retreat. Throughout the army he’s known as “Casey,” in tribute to the fact that as a youth in Kingston, Ont., he once fanned in the last of the ninth inning with the bases loaded.
Probably no man in the Canadian Army knows Camp Gagetown as well as Casey does. On foot or by jeep he has covered most of it, from the peak
of Mount Champlain in the south, to the sucking bogs in the centre and the tall timber stands at the north. He calls it all “my farm.” Waugh’s farm at its widest point is 22 miles across.
Gagetown strikes Waugh, and the other military men who have explored it, as just about an ideal place to train troops. “No other camp in Canada,” he says, “has such a variety of terrain and so much of it.” One day this summer twenty Sherman tanks, manned by Royal Canadian Dragoons, set off across the countryside on a small exercise. They rammed through thick forest growth, flattening trees as thick as telephone poles. They poked their blunt snouts into deep ditches, clambered over stone fences and wallowed through water. Two came to grief at the hands of the tank’s worst foe, mud. It took two hours to free them. Later, Sgt.-Major R. W. Deeming, who has been soldiering for 25 years, confessed, “I haven’t seen such mud since we were in Italy.”
Mud, plus Gagetown’s rolling hills, reminds some veterans of Korea. Its lowlands, as noted, resemble the North German plain. The training area is studded with farmhouses, barns and villages like New Jerusalem, which contains a cluster of houses, a church, graveyard and a small monument to its four fallen of World War II. The army plans to spare them. They make the countryside more typical for manoeuvres.
Brother of a Bazooka
Gagetown’s climate fits it for yoarround training, though it sometimes suffers from extremes. It can be hot in summer, damply cold in winter (28 below, last year), foggy sometimes and rainy anytime. All this suits the army fine. “We want it that way sometimes,” says Waugh, “—because wars don’t stop when the weather gets lousy.”
In these surroundings Canadian soldiers will train with a galaxy of weapons, from rifles on up to heavy artillery. With an eye to efficiency, small-arms ranges have been mapped out close to the camp headquarters, tank and artillery ranges farther away to the south. The 3.5-inch rocket launcher, bitr brother of the celebrated bazooka, will be used at Gagetown and, tucked off in one corner of the camp’s master plan, is a small rectangle marked ABC. This simple designation belies the grim lessons to be taught here—-how to Stay alive in atomic, bacterial and chemical warfare.
There are numerous streams and lakes, formerly fishing haunts, within the training area and one, Swan Lake, is big enough for mock assault landings.
When Gen. Rockingham put his 3rd Brigade through exercises “Firebrand” and “Crescendo” at Gagetown this summer, only dummy ammunition was used. Next year, once the entire training area has been cleared of civilians, troops will train with live ammunition. The consequent danger of fire poses a big problem. In 1926 a small brush blaze got out of hand and destroyed 23,000 acres of choice woodland on the present camp site. Ottawa plans te assign rangers from the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources to protect the Gagetown area.
When full-scale manoeuvres are going on, possibly beginning next year, all traffic will be stopped on the Broad Road, New Brunswick’s best highway, which splits the training area on its way from Saint John to Fredericton. Until or unless Ottawa provides another highway skirting the camp, motorists will have to use a winding road along the St. John River and travel an extra 25 miles between the two cities.
Gagetown’s headquarters is rising now in a clearing of roughly four square miles at the northern end of the camp, near the village of Oromocto. Almost all its buildings, ranging from tiny gatehouses to a sprawling ordnance depot, will be built of reinforced concrete and steel—-unlike most of Canada’s jerrybuilt army posts.
At the present time 800 construction workers with bulldozers and steam shovels are grading the headquarters site, laying sewage, water, power, heating and communication lines and building 20 miles of streets. All of Gagetown’s utilities, including its hot-water heating system, will be in a concrete tunnel running beneath five miles of the principal streets. Most of Gagetown’s roadways, except those used by tanks, will be asphalt. The tanks rate concrete.
By next summer, when the roads and utilities have been completed, construction of Gagetown’s buildings will be well under way. They’ll include officers’ and NCOs’ quarters and barracks for more than 4,000 men, tank hangars, Protestant and Roman Catholic chapels, garages and stores, a guardhouse and detention barracks, hospital, drill halls, gun sheds and the ordnance depot which is twice the size, of a football field.
By next fall, after another brigade group has broken camp, the first of Gagetown’s permanent units will move in. And by New Year’s Day of 1957 the army expects the camp will be complete to the last fire hydrant and light socket.
Half of the clearing on which the headquarters is now being built will be left vacant, ready to double the camp’s size in the event of wholesale mobilization.
Work on the Gagetown townsite, a 900-acre triangle distinct from the camp but close to it, will be started next spring. First phase of the army’s plans calls for 1,400 housing units— costing between $12,000 and $14,000 each and, ultimately, 2,500 of them. Built to Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation specifications, Gagetown’s homes will be for one or two families each but no more. Experience has shown that army wives and their husbands dislike the barracks-style apartment life of many army camps. Cagetown will offer them the privacy, or near-privacy, that they might have in a bungalow in the suburbs of Toronto, Calgary or Halifax.
When the army camp is completed it will have a permanent year-round strength of about 5,000 officers and men who will pay rent according to rank.
The need for a camp like Gagetown was felt sharply soon after the outbreak of the Korean War when Canada began recruiting her largest “peacetime” army. In 1951 the Department of National Defense sent out teams of surveyors to find a site. It had to be on the east coast, close to railheads and embarkation ports. It needed a variety of terrain and a climate for year-round training. And the area had to be sparsely populated.
After shopping around in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick they recommended the Gagetown district. Before it was finally chosen the Defense Minister and his military advisers studied room-sized aerial maps of the site. To prevent land speculation, the plans were kept secret. “It was all very hush-hush,” Brigadier T. Eric Snow, «New Brunswick area commander, said later.
Having approved the site Ottawa moved swiftly to acquire it. On Aug. 7, 1952, all lands staked out by the government’s surveyors were expropriated and turned over to the army.
From that moment, theoretic. , the two thousand people living on the camp site were trespassers on their own farms and wood lots. They didn’t like it. They held protest meetings, sent letters and telegrams to Ottawa and generally damned the army.
For Ottawa there remained the awkward problem of compensating Gagetown’s irate displaced persons and evicting them, without losing too many dollars or friends. This task fell to Frank Millar, a 39-year-old real-estate officer of the Department of National Defense. Millar is a big moon-faced
man with grey-flecked hair and a hearty manner completely at variance with his role as a wholesale evicter. FI is job was to find out who owned what land, then to make a cash settlement for their losses to the army. To aid him, besides his own staff of 18, was a battery of 15 lawyers, headed by Arthur Limerick, a quiet middle-aged Fredericton barrister.
Limerick has called what ensued “the most complicated land deal on record,” What made it so, to begin with, was the fact that most of the thousand-odd properties to be paid for dated back
to the late 1700s the days of the Loyalists.
Millar moved from Ottawa and settled down for a long stay in Fredericton. Immediately he and his assistant, Lee Mersereau, prepared a map of the camp site, eight feet by twelve feet, from aerial photos. On it they superimposed an ancient chart of the original grants. Then, working in shifts at two registry offices, Limerick’s lawyers tried searching titles up to the present day. But they soon found that many properties had been subdivided, lumped with others or left to unknown people
So they went out into the
field, ...und out who was living on each piece of property, and began untangling from there to establish ownership.
They had to climb family trees, dig at their roots and probe strange wills. To buy one small property, worth $8,000, they had to chase down 17 heirs in Canada, the United States and England. ,
As the legal staff cleared the title to each property it was colored in on the master map. Then Millar or Mersereau went out to talk terms.
“At first,” Millar recalls, “we met solid hostility. Naturally, people don’t like to be told they’ve got to give up their homes and get out, and that’s just what we had to tell them.” Gradually, after Millar had talked to them in their kitchens, out on the hack forty and at meetings held in rural halls, they started coming to terms. He promised them “fair and just prices” and plenty of time to get out.
Later, Millar called them “the best Canadians there are—real patriots.”
Some sold eagerly. Others, deeply rooted, were naturally reluctant to leave farms that had been in their families for generations. “A few thought we were out to gyp them,” says Mersereau, “and a few others thought they were dealing with Santa Claus.”
Their policy, set by Ottawa, lay somewhere in the middle. They weren’t to drive a hard bargain, brandishing the big club of expropriation. Neither were they to squander taxpayers’ money just to get an unpleasant job over with. Government appraisers, sent around to each property, heard claims for land, buildings, crop losses and such and rated them in dollars and cents. In the village of Petersville an appraiser met Mrs. Mary McCarthy, a 95-year-old widow who lived with her cats and her son in the house she had
come to as a bride 75 years before. He made an offer of $20,000 settlement for the son’s two properties. “Tell me,” Mrs. McCarthy cut in, “what price do they pay for contentment?” After they settled she bought another farm 35 miles away.
Edward Barton, a farmer at Clones, was no happier about leaving. “My grandfather came here in 1840 from Ireland,” he told a newspaper reporter. “He carried boards on his back to build his first shelter. It’s not right to take our land.” Barton got $23,000 in compensation.
Johannes Vahtra, an Estonian DP, had bought his farm only two years before. He received $9,000.
A Lesson in Tactics
Some landowners settled promptly and drove away in new cars. To others moving was a hardship. One old man lost his home to the army and went to live on his son’s farm, five miles away, just outside the camp area. A few nights later he got up, dressed and went back to it. In the morning an army officer found him asleep on the floor of an upstairs bedroom. “I got a bit homesick,” he said.
A woman who went to see Millar in his Fredericton office was determined to hold out. “It’s my land,” she said, pounding his desk, “and you can’t make me sell.” Millar took her name, the location of her property, checked into his files and came up smiling.
“You’ll he happy to know,” he said, “that we don’t want your land.”
The visitor stiffened. “What!” she said. “I’ve been trying to unload that place for ten years. You’ve got to take it. It’s discrimination!” Millar politely turned her down, reflecting that here was a lesson in tactics for the army.
Besides arranging settlements rang-
ing from $800 to $265,000 (paid to a lumber company), helping displaced people to find new homes and struggling through a welter of paper work, Millar and his staff had to look after a million small details. Arrangements had to be made to care for about 30 graveyards —the army will tend them and permit regular visiting days; compensation had to be reckoned and paid for schools, telephone lines and roads; timber yields had to be calculated, for most farmers had small wood lots.
Now, two years after the land was expropriated, only a small portion of the army’s 274,000 acres is yet to be paid for. In all, nearly 1,100 settlements may have been made and a few holdout cases may go to the Exchequer Court of Canada. The total cost, including administration and $80,000 in legal fees, is expected to run close to $13 millions.
Asks Army to Tea
Most of Gagetown’s former residents have resettled in the Norton and Sussex districts of New Brunswick and have changed over from mixed farming and logging to dairy farming. Some older farmers have retired and a few younger men have left New Brunswick. Few people, says Millar, have held grudges against the army once they’ve been paid. The army isn’t so sure. Recently, a party of soldiers found this message pinned to the railing in an abandoned church, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Though the army had the power all along to seize land on thirty days’ notice and argue about it later, only once did it pull its rank. Last winter the few civilians remaining in the southern half of Camp Gagetown were told they’d have to be out by June 1. The 3rd Brigade was coming in.
All complied except Mrs. Mabel Nelson, a middle-aged woman who decided she didn’t want to sell her 150-acre farm. She had just finished spring housecleaning. “I’d be crazy to sell this place after getting it all fixed up,” she said. So Col. Waugh went to see her. He read her a section of the National Defense Act stating that trespassers would be liable to a year in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both. When he asked her to sign a paper acknowledging that the act had been read to her, she refused. “As long as the army hasn’t got the lease,” she said, “they can’t turn me out.” As Waugh left she told him she’d be glad to have his soldiers drop in for a cup of tea any time they were around because they were “nice lads.”
Mrs. Nelson was ordered to appear in court but before the date of her hearing she came to terms and moved away.
About two years earlier, when Mrs. Nelson and other landowners first
heard of the Gagetown project, J. B, McNair, then Premier of New Brunswick, hailed it as “the biggest event in New Brunswick’s economic history.” It will cost $50 millions to build and $15 millions a year (including soldiers’ pay) to maintain.
Although the province as a whole liked this prospect Saint John businessmen objected to the location of the permanent headquarters at the northern end of the training area, near Fredericton. Parker Mitchell, president of the Saint John Board of Trade, says that Fredericton was favored “for political reasons.” This apparently referred to the fact that the city is in the riding of York-Sunbury, political home of Labor Minister Milton Gregg.
Originally the army planned to build its first 1,400 PMQs—permanent married quarters—in Fredericton itself. There would thus be a natural intermingling of military and civilian people, which the army likes to see for reasons of practical public relations. But Fredericton tried to drive too hard a bargain. It wanted the army to build the houses, provide all services—sewage, water and streets—and submit the whole development to taxation. The army decided to set up its own town.
Even so, Camp Gagetown will mean much to both Fredericton and Saint John. While supplies for the base will be bought largely in stately Fredericton, bigger brasher Saint John has more attractions for the soldier on leave with money to spend.
The proximity of these two cities was one of the reasons for putting the camp where it is. While Gagetown will have baseball and football fields, an 800-seat theatre, a large recreation centre, gymnasium and messes, the army isn’t kidding itself that these will be enough. Both Saint John and Fredericton have set up committees to study ways to keep soldiers entertained.
Canada’s wartime army camps were the butt of much soldier humor. Some were described as “sand pits with weekend passes” and at one time a group of men stationed at Camp Debert, outside Truro, N.S., earnestly considered hoisting the Russian flag on the grounds that Debert was really a thinly disguised part of Siberia. Camp Gagetown, a vast improvement, is already coming in for its share. Last spring, at a refresher course held in Fredericton for recruiting officers of the New Brunswick area, one officer engaged in a mock interview with another, the prospective recruit:
“Now, you understand,” he said, “if you join up you may be called on to go places in defense of your country.”
“Like Germany, Korea, the far north, anywhere — even to Camp Gagetown.” ★