During the height of the Second World War pressure from Great Britain resulted in the transfer of thousands of German prisoners of war (PoWs) from British to Canadian control. To house them, Canada built a system of PoW camps, including Riding Mountain Camp in southwestern Manitoba. The PoWs sent there soon realized their good fortune: they lived in warm barracks, ate abundant food, and were able to purchase goods from a mail order catalog. But while the PoWs were well treated, they were at the same time subjected to a concerted reeducation campaign organized by the Allies. This reveals that these Canadian camps were not merely warehouses for the PoWs, but in fact, classic reforming institutions.
Initially subjected to ideological training under Nazism, the PoWs were next subjected to another kind of education under the Canadians. Evidence collected from oral history interviewing, archival research, and three seasons of field archaeology combine to reveal that material culture was a key nexus in this competition for the minds of the PoWs. In addition to providing books and teaching courses on history and political science, the Canadians introduced the PoWs to a democratic, capitalistic way of life by familiarizing them with North American consumer goods and by allowing them to fraternize with Canadian civilians. The Nazi bureaucracy, in turn, used material things to try to keep the PoWs from turning to the other side. For example, by sending them crisp new Wehrmacht uniforms from Germany, heartening Christmas cards, and packages filled with German goods adorned with Nazi symbolism.