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Camp Picton doubles as Camp X for super spies documentary

Actors portray Soviet defectors Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko arriving at Camp X (filmed at Camp Picton airbase). Photo courtesy Yap Camp X Productions Ltd

Actors portray Soviet defectors Igor and Svetlana Gouzenko arriving at Camp X (filmed at Camp Picton airbase). Photo courtesy Yap Camp X Productions Ltd

County faces and the former Camp Picton property (the heights) are featured in the two hour documentary Camp X: Secret Agent School airing Tuesday, July 15 at 3 pm ET/PT and Saturday, July 19 at 7 pm ET/PT on the History Channel.

Few people know that the first North American school for spies, known as Camp X, was secretly opened in Canada, near Whitby, Ont., in the dark days of the Second World War. At Camp X, British instructors taught American and Canadian soldiers the deadly art of espionage. Camp X created droves of real life James Bonds who were sent on top-secret missions behind enemy lines.

The fascinating, yet little-known Canadian story helped win the Second World War for the Allies, and was instrumental during the Cold War. It trained the original U.S. secret agents and led to the founding of the CIA. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, was reputed to have trained there. Kim Philby, the most infamous double agent of the 20th century and defector to the Soviet Union, played a significant role in the Camp X story, as did Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko and his family, who were hidden at Camp X by the Canadian government.

“The story of Camp X, the original secret agent school, is largely unknown,” said yap films executive producer, Elliott Halpern. “We hope this film will finally reveal the amazing story of what went on there, the remarkable stories of the men and women who trained there, and how what they learned at Camp X helped win the war for the Allies.”

Below, from November 2013 interviews during filming at the former Camp Picton:

"Milo, you're dead. Everybody notice, I want it to feel real." - Assistant Director Jason Bourke giving direction to actors in the field.

“Milo, you’re dead. Everybody notice, I want it to feel real.” – Assistant Director Jason Bourke giving direction to actors in the field, including Taylor Terpstra, of Picton.

Canada has long been known for its super spies. In November 2012, Prince Edward County was a location for the filming of a two-hour documentary on Camp X: The School for Super Spies (working title) to be aired in the spring of 2014.

Yap Films, commissioned by History Channel Canada, is documenting a selection of personal stories of agents who attended Camp X – the first spy training school of its kind in North America.

“The riveting stories of former Second World War special agents are to be brought to life through dramatic recreations,” said Sara Soligo, associate producer.

A portion of the recreation involved about a dozen actors from the County acting as spy trainees for filming at the former Camp Picton property now owned by Loch Sloy Holdings, on “the hill”. The former military camp was used for Bombing and Gunnery School training during the Second World War.

Fabian starting to be outfitted as a German officer.

Fabian Woehrer starting to be outfitted as a German officer.

Fabian Woehrer worked for two days as an actor and a language consultant.

“It was a very interesting time with a lot of great and funny people,” said Wohrer. “I played a German officer in two different scenes. People told me that I fit perfectly in the character and that I brought it a life.”

Woehrer was also part of the team as a language consultant to help improve German language skills of other actors.

“This was also a lot of fun. I could watch different actors playing their character and listen to them when they tried to speak a whole German sentence. The two days were very interesting and I would to do it again.”

Picton's Taylor Terpstra listens director Robin Bicknell, and art director Peter Twist, discuss the scene.

Picton’s Taylor Terpstra listens director Robin Bicknell, and art director Peter Twist, discuss the scene.

Taylor Terpstra, of Picton, was delighted to be a spy trainee actor.

“My uncle was in the army and I had family in the war, but this acting the past two days has been lots of fun,” said Terpstra, who, when he’s not acting, works in construction.

“Yesterday I had to get kicked in the ‘you-know-where’ and pretend I was hurt while disarming someone of a knife,” he laughs. “It did vibrate a little even though I had a jock on but they said I did a good job of pretending to be really hurt.”

Camp X, a top secret Second World War spy training and radio communications site, was established Dec. 6, 1941 on the border of Whitby and Oshawa. The facility was conceived by Sir Winston Churchill and implemented by Canadian confidant William Stephenson, head of British Security Co-ordination (The Man Called Intrepid). Stephenson estimated that up to 2,000 men and women graduated from the spy school before it closed in 1946.

Of the Americans at Camp X of particular interest was Maj.-Gen. William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan. As head of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, he dispatched operatives who would form the core of the post-war Central Intelligence Agency to train on the shores of Lake Ontario. And, according to Camp X Historical Society president Matthew Batten, the nickname for the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., “the Farm,” is a nod to the former farm on which the camp was built.
James Bond creator Ian Fleming who, as a commander in the British intelligence office, advised Donovan on setting up the CIA, is also said to have visited Camp X. It’s believed he applied what he learned there to his famous 007 character.

Camp X artifacts – such as commando coveralls and a suitcase radio – are among the rare wartime collectibles from a private collection in Oshawa, that are now at Ottawa’s War Museum. Not included were James Bond-type gadgets such as a lipstick dagger and poison-gas pen which, although interesting, were not necessarily provenance to Camp X.

Jennifer Robb oversaw the wardrobe for the actors.

Jennifer Robb oversaw the wardrobe for the actors in the Flying Club building.

Hair stylist Jennifer Beam created the wartime haircuts for all the actors, incluidng Fabian Woehrer, who played a German officer.

Hair stylist Jennifer Beam created the wartime haircuts for all the actors, incluidng Fabian Woehrer, who played a German officer.

Filming took place at Loch Sloy Holdings - formerly Camp Picton.

Filming took place at Loch Sloy Holdings – formerly Camp Picton.

 

Camp X

Camp X, a top secret Second World War spy training and radio communications site, was located on the border of Whitby and Oshawa.

 

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  1. Jim Griffith says:

    Way to go “Camp” Picton, telling the story of Camp X which sadly exists only as a small memorial today.
    My dad trained at Camp Picton in the 50s with the RCA and fired the ARCATs over Lake Ontario at nearby Point Petre.
    I wonder how many communist spies were all over that place when the CF 105 models were being test-fired in that very spot during the height of the “Cold War”.
    Now, whatever happened to the supposed Arrow model found on the lakebed a few years ago… probably just one of those zebra mussel encrusted AA projectiles (Aerial Remote Controlled Artillery Target), at least one of which allegedly made it across the lake to land in the surf off Rochester.
    Our military history should never be forgotten.

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