was early spring 1917, war was raging across Europe.
The fight against Germany was made tougher by the fact
the Russian government had just been overthrown. 300
years of Romanov rule suddenly ended with the abdication
of the Tsar, Nicholas II.
An interim government tries to
hold Russia together while maintaining the unpopular
war effort against the Germans on the Eastern Front.
All over the world, exiled Russian
activists of all stripes try to make their way back
to Russia; back to participate in forming a new government;
and for some, back to take Russia out of the war.
In Halifax, a steamer pulls
into harbour for a short stop over from New York
on it's way to Europe.
Acting on a tip, British
naval officers board the steamer and scoop up
a handful of Russians.
They were heading home to
have a voice in the Russian revolution. This particular
group was worrisome for the British. These were
revolutionaries who would take Russia out of the
war if given the chance.
The rumour was that one of them,
Leon Trotsky, had been paid $10,000 by the Germans to
head home and overthrow the Russian government.
Though it would take history to
forge this tale, that April day Canada managed to intercept
one of the Twentieth Century's most remarkable and least
He didn't go easily, matter of
fact he supposedly bit some of the soldiers as he was
dragged by his hair off the ship. Trotsky had all the
necessary papers needed to travel, it was the first,
and perhaps only time, he would be arrested when he
was on the right side of the law. His second wife Sedova
and their two young sons, age 9 and 11, were also detained.
The men were hustled off the ship,
loaded onto a train and sent to a Prisoner of War camp
in Amherst, Nova Scotia.
The POW camp held over 850 prisoners.
Some of them were innocent Ukrainians who had been working
in Canada at the start of the war, but were now considered
dangerous. The majority, however, were German sailors
and their officers, captured at sea.
For the next month, Leon Trotsky
would spend the days amongst the sailors, translating
the local Halifax newspaper for them. At night, he shared
a cramped building with 800 other prisoners of war.
Trotsky was outspoken about his
conditions, he believed he didn't deserve to be in what
he called a "concentration" camp. He complained
at every opportunity.
Yet it wasn't all bad, the prisoners
were confined, but they had some freedoms. Many of them
worked on the railway, or cleared fields at the experimental
farm. And the camp had a theatre troop, it offered people
a chance to play in bands and there were tools for wood
carving. In fact there are many wooden artifacts made
by the POWS still scattered in homes throughout the
While Trotsky was in the Amherst
camp, his wife Sedova and the two boys were in Halifax.
At first they were sheltered in the home of the local
police interpreter. Sedova was required to report daily
to the police station. Eventually she was allowed to
stay at a local hotel, but under the watch of the military.
Her time was spent writing letters to anyone she thought
could pressure the British government to release her
husband. She spared no venom in her words about the
government and her hosts in Halifax.
Unfortunately for Sedova, the British
weren't the only ones worried about Trotsky. When informed
about his illegal arrest in Halifax, the Provisional
Russian Government declined to request his release.
They knew he would be trouble.
Leon was proving to be a handful
for the POW camp guards too. He took every opportunity
to lecture the sailors on politics and revolution.
He spoke in their own language
and convinced many of them that even though their two
countries were at war, actually they were allies in
the larger class war. Their true enemies were the upper
classes ... which included most officers. An excellent
orator, Trotsky could easily turn the crowd with his
The German officers, worried that
Trotsky was causing discipline to deteriorate, went
to the camp commander, Colonel Arthur Henry Morris,
Colonel Morris, an Imperial Officer
and veteran of the Boer War, ordered Trotsky to stop
making any more speeches. This only served to enrage
the sailors even more, and almost everyone of them signed
a petition demanding Trotsky be allowed to speak.
Tensions grew and grew, until emotions boiled over.
In one heated meeting, the
camp commander yelled at Trotsky and accused him
of inciting a riot and not respecting authority.
As tempers flared, Nova Scotia soldier Captain
Carman Wightman, stepped in front of Trotsky,
blocking a guard preparing to ram the Russian
with a bayonet.
The argument with Colonel
Morris earned Trotsky two weeks in the solid steel
solitary confinement chamber.
By the end of April it seemed no
one wanted Trotsky around any more. Not the people running
the camp, and not the German officers. And the authorities
in Halifax were just as weary of Sedova's relentless
Finally the Provisional Russian
Government bowed to growing pressure at home and unenthusiastically
requested his release.
The two week sentence in solitary
confinement only lasted two days, the fiery Russian
walked out of his cell, out of the camp, and into the
On April 29, the German
sailors lined his path to the gates of the
POW camp, to shake his hand and wish him
well. Their band played the revolutionary
The guards and officers were relieved to
see him go.
The rumoured $10,000
Trotsky was supposed to be carrying was
Trotsky was reunited with his family.
He was put on another steamer bound for Europe. And
set off on a journey which changed the face of Europe
He arrived in Russia in time
to help organize the October revolution, he was instrumental
in establishing the communist government led by Lenin
and almost single-handedly started the Red Army. He
wasn't even 40 years old.