It’s estimated that between 500 and 2000 recruits passed through the training ground at Camp X before it closed in 1944.
Standing in Intrepid Park in Whitby today, you’d never know that it was once the site of a renowned paramilitary training school called Camp X. Aside from a memorial on the waterfront, it looks like any other sprawling greenspace. But Camp X was tremendously important to the war effort — one of the many ways Durham Region contributed to this pivotal time in history.
Camp X was officially known as Special Training School (STS) 103, and its mission was to train individuals in the art of subterfuge behind enemy lines during World War II. It was one of several dozen facilities around the world with the same shared goal — “to set Europe ablaze,” as Winston Churchill famously said, through sabotage and subversion. The site was also home to a classified radio communications centre; the high-speed transmitter used in the centre was known as Hydra, and it was closely linked with the British Security Co-ordination (BSC).
Camp X was opened in 1941. It was positioned in Durham by the British because of its proximity to the United States. The US was neutral at the time, and the British was hoping to elicit their support. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed a new Coordinator of Information, William Donovan, who was interested in creating a team of secret agents. Camp X was created to fulfill Donovan’s objective. A Canadian operative called William Stephenson was named the principal facilitator of the project. (Fun fact: Stephenson was widely known as Intrepid, which is why the park was given this moniker when Camp X was decommissioned.)
For the next three years, agents from around the world underwent preliminary training at Camp X in subjects like intelligence and espionage. Those who prevailed at this first step of agent training then went on to finishing courses at British schools. It’s estimated that between 500 and 2000 recruits passed through the training ground at Camp X before it closed in 1944.
The communications centre continued to operate beyond the closure of the STS. Hydra was a vital aspect of high-grade intelligence communiques between the BSC, Ottawa, London and Washington. It also serviced the now-infamous code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park in the UK. Members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) also trained at Camp X in duties related to Hydra, including transcribing and decoding encrypted messages.
The land was used in various ways once Camp X fully closed in 1944. The RCMP even used it as a secure location for harbouring Soviet embassy cypher-clerk Igor Gouzenko, upon his defection to Canada. The buildings were eventually demolished, but a structure was discovered by a park goer with a metal detector in 2016; it is in the process of being restored.
If these walls could talk, we’re betting they wouldn’t say a word. They know better.