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HomeNewsHistory students clean Gravenhurst's Mickle Cemetery

History students clean Gravenhurst’s Mickle Cemetery

Gerald Willmott, a teacher at Gravenhurst High School (GHS), took his grade 10 students to Mickle Cemetery to clean up the area where some veterans’ graves are. 

“I’ve been coming for the past few years with my students,” he says. “It’s a not to be missed opportunity.”

“I wanted to come and show my support for these people that helped our country grow,” says Pria Thrift.

Her friend Raquelle Kenny adds, “the veterans deserve to have nice clean graves.”

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Thrift admits she doesn’t find every aspect of history class interesting but she does like learning about wars. “I like to know about what women did during the war, how soldiers fought, and how they lived in trenches,” she says.

Willmott credits the school’s Vice Principal Lorey Sargent and fellow history teacher Eric Barz for coming up with the idea years ago. Willmott says it helps to provide context to what he’s teaching, pointing out that he likes to focus on local connections, when possible. “Gravenhurst has some interesting connections to World War II that are a bit more unique than other places,” he says.

“I think it’s really interesting to learn about what the veterans did for us and how we got where we are today,” says Sarah Orchard, adding she appreciates how Willmott incorporates Gravenhurst and Muskoka history into his classes.

Willmott points out that the prisoner-of-war Camp Calydor, also known as Camp 20, was located in Gravenhurst between 1940 and 1946. The Town of Gravenhurst’s website says the camp was created when it looked like Britain was about to be invaded. The prisoners held in England were transferred out of the country to keep them from being freed. “POW Camp 20 was, by all standards a vacation spa for the POWs,” the town’s website reads. Along with a swimming area, the prisoners built themselves an aquarium, had a small zoo with a monkey and a black bear that prisoners wrestled as a “form of exercise,” and even had a row of gardens. By the summer of 1940, the camp held 489 prisoners, including Ulrich Steinhiper, a German fighter ace who was credited with shooting down five Royal Air Force planes before his capture.

Willmott says the prisoners built the stone steps at Gull Lake Park, which remains there today.

A fire in Nov. 1967 destroyed much of the property, according to the town’s website, and another fire in April 1968 “finished it off” with only concrete pillars, a fire hydrant, and the outline of a fence remaining today. However, an information kiosk was built at the end of Lorne St. to give interested people more details on the former camp.

“It’s nice to get some connections between the book and the world,” Willmott says. 

Another one of Willmott’s students Harley McIsaac says she enjoyed the recent trip her class made to Bethune House. She says she didn’t know it was designated as one of Canada’s National Historic Sites, so she was glad she was able to learn more about it.

“It’s powerful learning when you can make a local connection,” Willmott says.

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