A Fraser Valley university instructor spent a couple of weeks near Cherryville in July literally digging up information on how prisoners lived during the First World War at the Monashee Internment Camp.
The ground-penetrating radar expert Dr. Sarah Beaulieu, from the Abbotsford-based university, is an instructor and faculty associate in the school’s community health and social innovation hub. Prior to Cherryville, she had been excavating at the Morrissey Internment Camp just outside of Fernie.
Beaulieu is also connected with Vernon’s Andrea Malysh and Lawrna Myers, program manager and researcher, respectively, with the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund and was aware of the Monashee camp.
“It’s unique because it’s on the side of a highway and hasn’t been developed, so it seemed like a great location to begin unearthing and excavating,” said Beaulieu near the end of her two-week stint in the North Okanagan.
The camp was located east of Cherryville.
Aided by Malysh, Myers and Myers’ family, as well as students from Simon Fraser University’s archaeology department, Beaulieu was able to unearth both ends of the facility and completely delineate the camp.
“We found the guards’ quarters, officers’ quarters, the civilian prisoners of war (POW) quarters, and, of course, all of the artifacts that come up with this type of situation and location,” said Beaulieu, referring to cans, bottles, bottle caps, stoves, stove pipes, stove doors.
“Basically these are items that tell us how the prisoners lived, how they were fed, how they were treated within the camps.”
A couple of interesting finds included cans of OXO seasoning, which Beaulieu said would not have belonged to the prisoners, a cream container in the shape of corn, and a broken bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky.
Beaulieu is the first to excavate First World War internment sites in Canada with her research contributing new information toward how the POWs lived and were treated in these Canadian camps (there were also camps in Vernon, where MacDonald Park and W.L. Seaton Secondary are today, and Mara).
Artifacts from her research, including a barbed-wire cross and a handmade shovel used by POWs to dig an escape tunnel, are on exhibit in the Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.
Her research has been highlighted in the documentary That Never Happened which has received numerous international awards and was the Official Selection of the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, screening in Geneva, Switzerland. The film has been screened in Vernon by the Vernon and District Family History Society.
Beaulieu’s use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) as a remote sensing method has seen her liaise with the RCMP in search of clandestine graves, survey cemeteries for the City of Abbotsford and Agassiz, and work for First Nations communities to survey both Indigenous cemeteries and search for residential school burial sites.
Beaulieu’s work with GPS uncovered in May an unmarked graveyard on the grounds of the old Kamloops Residential School containing hundreds of remains.
She used GPR in the dig at the Monashee Internment Camp, she said, but not for graves.
“We used it here for building floors and remnants of the various structures and what-nots,” Beaulieu said.