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Ortona Barracks fixed 2

World War II had a significant impact and left a lasting legacy on Oakville as it did on many communities in Canada. Men and women in large numbers contributed to the war effort by serving on the front lines, participating in the manufacturing of weapons and goods and volunteering in a variety of ways in support of the defence of Europe and the preservation of freedom.

(This article was written by WRRA Board Member Sandy Moshenko, whose family grew up in and around West River.)

World War II had a significant impact and left a lasting legacy on Oakville as it did on many communities in Canada. Men and women in large numbers contributed to the war effort by serving on the front lines, participating in the manufacturing of weapons and goods and volunteering in a variety of ways in support of the defence of Europe and the preservation of freedom.

Oakville, with a population at the time of less than 10,000, sent the highest proportion of volunteers to serve of any community in Canada. Even following the declaration of victory in 1945 Oakville continued its war legacy. One symbol of this was the presence in the town core of Central Command for the Canadian Army. It was located at the corner of Bond and Kerr Streets, the current home to the Central West Region Developmental Services.

Ortona Barracks fixed 2Ortona Barracks, Circa 1956. Photo from "The Prints of Oakville" by Gary Evans

The main building on Bond Street was built in 1914 by the Independent Order of Foresters and served as an orphanage. In 1943 the site was sold to the Canadian Army and operated as the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Casualty Retraining Centre. The Ortona Barracks campus covered the property from Bond street north to Normandy and from Kerr Street east to Queen Mary Drive. At the same time the Canadian Government through Wartime Housing Limited (now Central Mortgage and Housing Corp.) began the construction of housing for veterans returning from the war and military personnel stationed at Ortona
Barracks which became Central Command of the Canadian Army in 1946.

The building of post-war housing across Canada was an enormous undertaking. It is believed that about 1,000,000 of these homes still exist today. The construction of the homes was wholly financed by the Canadian government in what was meant to provide temporary accommodation for defence-related workers and returning veterans. They were designed to be prefabricated and demolished afte the war. About 30,000 such houses were constructed in the Oakville area between 1941 and 1947.Surrey Park was one such development. Built at what is now Rebecca St. and Dorval Drive, Surrey Park served as home to military families who worked at Central Command. This area is currently undergoing residential development

By the mid-1960's, Ortona had become the home of 70 Communications Group and continued to provide employment for many civilian staff. For instance, my uncle, Bill Holbrook, was employed by the Canadian Army as a plumber for Ortona and its surrounding military housing from 1958 to the late 1960's. During the Cold War, Ortona became part of what was called the Distant Early Warning Line, a system of radar and communications installations located mostly in the far north of the Arctic and developed to detect incoming Soviet bombers. The DEW Line operated from 1957 to the 1980's. During the height of the Cold War, periodic air raid manoeuvres would occur at Ortona, accompanied by the sounding of a deafening siren located near the current location of the Seniors Centre on Kerr St. Such drills served as a reminder of the possibility of attack and the need for preparedness.