Living Conditions

If you've been camping before, you know something about what the COs experienced. The rain, the bugs, the dirtiness. The one difference is that instead of relaxing, the COs had to work every day. Living conditions varied in each camp. In Manitoba, where the winters are very cold, the cabins had to be warm enough for the men. In some summer camps in BC, the men slept in tents. To give you an idea about camp life, let's look at housing and food, as well as some free time activities like laundry and haircuts.

Housing

The Manual of Instruction had a blueprint of the suggested camp layout, but each camp adapted that plan. Each camp had a kitchen, a dining room, tents or cabins for sleeping, and an outhouse for the bathroom. 

S.D. Ramer served in Castle Mountain Camp.

“The dining room with a kitchen at one end, was large enough to accommodate forty or more people. Eight or ten tents were to be our living quarters. A tent had a plank floor, walls four feet [1.2 m] high, and rafters covered with canvas. Forty gallon [151 L] drums were converted into heaters to heat the tents. One tent was the bath house where we washed and bathed.” [ASM, 201]

Abram L. Ens describes the buildings at the camp near Kootenay, BC.

“The buildings were of rough lumber construction, with tar paper and lath exterior. The inside was not boarded. We had open ceilings, a forty-five gallon barrel on its side for a heater, with a cut off barrel on top of the heater for our hot water supply. In one corner there was a sink for washing. The rest of the bunkhouse was taken up with one-man cots, mattresses and gray woolen blankets. On the inside of the door, the rules and regulations to be adhered to, were posted.” [ASM, 229-231]

In Clear Lake, Manitoba, Erwin R. Giesbrecht reports that COs had to stuff their own mattresses

“The camp was about six miles [10 km] north of the town of Wasagaming. The tents had wooden floors and were all set up with bare army cots. We were given a big bag and some hay to fill our mattresses with. The tents and cots were all the same so there was not much choosing.” [ASM , 75-93] 

Jake Krueger also worked at Clear Lake. He expands on Giesbrecht's comments on the mattresses.

“As we jumped from the truck we were directed like cattle into a new, well-lit bunkhouse, where 24 steel cots stood military fashion along three walls waiting to be claimed…. We were each handed four rough army blankets and a large burlap sack, and advised to fill it full of hay in the horse barn, -- our mattress for the duration. Reluctantly and with foreboding we complied, and filled our sacks.”

 

“Naturally, everybody wanted a soft mattress – so thinking more hay meant softer sleeping, we all over-filled our sacks, to the consternation of all of us, as one after the other we rolled off our round mounds and bounced on the floor all night long. Nobody slept what was left of the night anyway. It took a while getting used to our early model “Sertas”, but after a few nights we had them flattened out enough to stay put all night – and those people who had not brought pillows, slept on their ears.” [ASM, 236]

Peter A. Thiessen had a similar experience in Riding Mountain National Park.

“There was somebody to give us directions to the time keeper's office, also a tent. There we gave our names and where we came from. He gave us a long bag and we were told to which tent to go to with the baggage. That was our home for the next four months. Then we were directed to a pile of straw to fill the bag for our mattress. On each bed was a cotton bat pillow, that soon got hard. Trying to fluff it up made it feel like a bag of dead rats. But we made it for the next four months.” [ASM, 15-17]