World War I Trenches… in Manitoba?

Did you know that Manitoba has trenches remaining from World War I? I sure didn’t. At least, not until Andrew brought me to Camp Hughes last summer.

Obviously that war never reached our shores, so why the trenches? Well, they were for training. This site grew to be quite huge, a small city, it even had a swimming pool!

We were heading west down the Transcanada Highway, on our way to Brandon, and made sure to stop here. Near Carberry, we veered off the pavement onto some gravel roads in search of the trenches of Camp Hughes.

Like most things, we didn’t really know what we were getting into, but we did find it. The plaques made that much quite obvious, thank goodness.

The above plaque says: “Camp Hughes – Overview. Established in 1909, Camp Sewell (renamed Camp Hughes in August 1915) opened on a war-time footing in 1915. Compared to the summer of 1914 when almost 7,000 militia soldiers trained, camp strength more than doubled to 15,000 soldiers. A scramble ensued to prepare the expanded facility: the engineers commenced work on the water supply system, and numerous storage buildings for the Canadian Army Service Corps were hastily constructed. Railroad sidings were expanded by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The result was establishment of a large service support area at the railhead. In 1915, an artillery brigade and two independent batteries trained at Sewell. Five Mounted Rifle Regiments, numbering in excess of 500 men and mounts, trained or were attached for rations and quarters at the Camp. In addition, six infantry battalions were under canvas. Each battalion numbered approximately of 1,000 men. At the close of the 1915 camp, improvements continued. By the spring of 1916, it became quite clear that the camp would double again to over 30,000 soldiers. Other additions included a prison building, a Veterinary Hospital for the care of horses (122 cases admitted in 1916) and a Dental Clinic/Administrative building.”

It basically looks like nothing today. And then we tried to take our little Jetta along this trail. I have no idea where it goes. If you’re familiar with the Carberry or Shilo area, you’ll know that it’s very sandy out there. This made me nervous, as I feel like you can get easily stuck in sand.

I was excited to see old foundations left from Camp Hughes.

I think there must be a lot more of these out here, but the area is pretty big and we didn’t have time to comb over the site that carefully. And we would’ve had to walk, since our car was maybe not up to the challenge.

On either side of the roadway, you can find Camp Hughes sites. This way pointed us to the cemetery!

Lots of glorifying of war here, as you might expect. That’s not my jam. But history is. So I had to come see.

A plaque at the site (erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada) reads: “Named after Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence (1911-1916), this site contains the most intact First World War battlefield terrain created for training purposes in Canada. One of a dwindling number worldwide, it retains many key features including trenches, a rifle range, grenade training grounds, gun positions, and observation posts. It recalls Canada’s determination to provide training specific to the tactics and conditions of the war overseas. A tangible link to Canada’s military effort, Camp Hughes still evokes the contributions and sacrifices of those who served during the Great War.”

Near the cemetery, we saw this little building, and beside it, a little gate, which we passed through. And this is when we found the trenches. You can tell that well over a century has passed, but it’s still absolutely fascinating.

Another plaque (erected in 2004 by the Manitoba Heritage Council) reads: “The open landscape close to the CPR main line made this site attractive for summer training camps for artillery, infantry and calvary units. Established as Sewell Camp in 1909, it was renamed in honour of Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defence, in 1915. During World War l (1914-1918), more than 38,000 troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force trained here. Many of the soldiers later distinguished themselves at the battle of Vimy Ridge, in April 1917. Extensive trench systems, grenade and rifle ranges, and military structures were built in 1915 and 1916. A variety of retail stores located close to the main camp formed a lively midway. Camp Hughes was dismantled in the 1930s as part of an unemployment relief project.”

Like I say about most things, I want to come back here and explore a lot more.

But as far as this one trip went, there was one thing I still wanted to see — the lone remaining building that has stood here for over 100 years:


We saw this building noted online and were curious to see it. I spied it from the road but getting to it was really uncomfortable, as we ran through wild brush and I was not ready for any of this — I was wearing sandals for some reason. But, we got there! It’s weird and terrifying. I thought for sure some scalywag would jump out at us. But no. It was empty. And we were invigorated at successfully finding it… and surviving!

I thought I would post about this in November but I don’t actually have anything significant to say about Camp Hughes. It’s just an interesting part of Manitoba history and I’d love to explore it some more. Perhaps I’ve offended some folks by saying that war isn’t my jam. However, I have no issue with that being regarded as offensive, so just be warned that if you come at me, I won’t be troubled at all. (I might be amused, though.) If you’ve been around here long enough, you’d know that my care lies in exploring the history of the Conscientious Objectors.

And so, I’m posting this on Good Friday, and the tie-in is… that I leave you with a little Easter Egg:




In 2015, Andrew and I visited the Yorkshire Trench in Flanders. This picture gives an idea of what the trenches of Camp Hughes likely once looked like. I wrote about this visit to war-related sites in Belgium on my former blog which still seems to exist, missadventurer