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This camp will change your life

Learning confidence, leadership, and life skills at Quebec's Camp Nominingue

by Glen Herbert

Not every Rhodes Scholar has been to Camp Nominingue, but at least one has. Colin Robertson got the nod last November. One of the first people he called with the news was the director of Nominingue, Grant McKenna. 

That says something, as does the tattoo of the camp crest on Colin’s chest. This is a person who is not only dedicated to what camp can do, but is fully cognizant of what it has done for him. While academically he’s always been strong, he credits the camp with giving him the confidence in his talents and in himself that, ultimately, the Rhodes committee was looking for. “It’s the interpersonal skills,” says Colin. “You can’t not get along with other people at camp. … functioning as a team, understanding your role in an organization … those are the skills that you learn as a camper.”

What camp does

Colin first arrived at Camp Nominingue as an 11-year-old camper and—as camper, LIT, and staff member—he’s been there ever since. “I was very, very shy,” he says of his first year there. “I was very unsure myself—what I enjoyed, what I wanted. It wasn’t like camp changed me over night, but every time I went back, I grew a bit more.” He’s been on staff for the past six summers, and he’ll be there again this year, just before heading off to Oxford in September.

Both Colin and his mother, Susan Fisher, are cautious about the idea that camp made Colin who he is today. It’s not quite that. Rather, they feel that camp helped him bring his skills and his personality forward, granting him the kind of confidence necessary to pursue the Rhodes, and indeed much else. Says Fisher, “What it does is that it brings the best out of you.”

Annie Duchesne’s son Simon is, in a sense, the boy that Colin was a decade ago. Simon first attended Nominingue last summer. He was a good student, but very shy. Getting him to go to camp, Duchesne admits, took a bit of cajoling. Which, actually, was also true for Colin in his first year. Fisher thought he’d be back home in two days. Eleven years later, he’s still going.

In the event, it went well. “He didn’t like it … he loved it,” says Duchesne. “He’s not the same boy now. He changed in 12 days,” the duration of his session last summer. “He’s trying things that he didn’t want to do before. He plays trombone!” she says, clearly very happily amused at the idea. “He came to me and he said ‘I want to play that instrument.’ He didn’t ask me for guitar, he asked me for slide trombone!”

For Duchesne, that’s something she didn’t see before, namely a willingness to follow his muse, with confidence and determination, and to chart his own path. “I think that’s coming from the camp. He tries everything.”

“They are all very grounded”

When asked about the benefits of the camp experience, both Fisher and Duchesne are given to talking about the kind of environment that the boys enter there. “There’s a lot of testosterone,” admits Duchesne, though she feels the nature of the camp environment—based in activity and set apart from urban life, including electronic devices—channels it in productive ways. “They are all very grounded. It’s like a big family. The kids are very courageous,” while also learning the values of teamwork and empathy.

“There are so many opportunities that allow kids to feel good about themselves,” says McKenna about what the camp environment does particularly well. “Gaining confidence and developing independence; skill building, and gaining a sense of achievement—it’s about giving kids a chance to be independent from home in a relatively safe and controlled environment. I think that has to be what camp does the best.”

It’s also about the relationships. Says Fisher. “how often do you get to make friendships that are that long and that strong?” She admits that she doesn’t love the tattoo, though is happy that, if Colin has to have one, it’s a canoe rather than, say, a skull. She also appreciates what it means. “He just loves the camp. It’s his little place in heaven.” And that little reminder will be with him, there beneath his gowns, when he attends Oxford this fall. How great is that?

Click here to learn more about Camp Nominingue and available summer sessions.


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