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Secret Intelligence Activities at Camp X

While Canada’s military contributions have been extensively documented, Canada’s vital role in the development and implementation of secret intelligence operations is not well known. The secret intelligence activities at Camp X, formerly located in both Whitby and Oshawa, Ontario, constitute an important element of Canada’s contribution to the Allied war effort during the Second World War. From 1941 to 1945, Camp X served as the training school for Canadian and American secret agents, the first of its kind in North America. It was also the site of Hydra, a sophisticated top-secret communications relay station that facilitated the transmission of Allied sensitive and secret information during the war, and continued to operate until 1969. The activities at Camp X also strengthened intelligence ties, and consequently relationships, between the British, Canadians, and Americans. Over 500 agents trained at Camp X before undertaking clandestine Allied missions all over the world.

A few years into the Second World War, the British Secret Intelligence Service had suffered serious losses. As suitable candidates for espionage became scarcer, William Stephenson, Canadian-born Head of the British Security Coordination, worked towards quickly training covert operatives for secret Allied missions. Canada was chosen not only because it was Great Britain’s greatest ally, but also because its diverse population provided British intelligence agencies with suitable recruits. In 1941, Camp X opened for training. Here, Canadians and Americans would learn from the finest intelligence specialists the arts of espionage, sabotage, subversion, unarmed combat, silent killing, weapons training and various forms of communications. Those who completed the training went on to work as secret agents, security personnel, intelligence officers, or psychological warfare experts, serving in clandestine operations in German-occupied Europe, supporting the efforts of underground resistance movements, or monitoring Nazi propaganda elsewhere. Agents were not protected by the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and many were captured, tortured, and executed by hostile forces, and survivors received no individual recognition for their courageous efforts.

In May 1942, soon after the construction of the camp, the communications station known as Hydra was established there. Through Hydra, an essential tactical and strategic component of the larger Allied radio network, secret information was transmitted securely to and from Canada, Great Britain, other Commonwealth countries and the United States. Built and run by Canadian electrical engineer Benjamin de Forest Bayly, it was considered one of the world’s most advanced communications centres at that time. Hydra continued to be used by the Canadian Forces during the Cold War, and into the late 1960s.

Operating as one of the hubs of intelligence training and wartime communications for the Allied war effort, Camp X also served to build lasting intelligence alliances between Canada, Great Britain and the United States, and each of these country’s intelligence services benefited from the camp’s training facilities and professional expertise.

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