How to create a camp with a dream, a storm, and a piano
In 1946 Camp Hurontario's founder Birnie Hodgetts traded a Boer War veteran, living in Mexico, a piano for some land on Georgian Bay … you know, as you do … and then proceeded to build a dream. Every camp has a unique story, though this one stretches the envelope. It comes to us from Polly Hodgetts, Birnie's daughter and director at Camp Hurontario.
My dad, Birnie Hodgetts was an avid fisherman and, on a fishing trip in 1946 with his brother Ted, paddled up the shore of Georgian Bay from their family cottage at Wau Wau Tasi. On a stormy night as the west wind was blowing, they came around into a bay which seemed sheltered from the storm, and there they pitched their tent for the night.
The following day, Birnie and Ted went for a hike and soon discovered that they had indeed landed on a huge and very beautiful island which was totally uninhabited (as was the whole area at that time). Birnie, as the story goes, turned to Ted and said, "This is where I will have my camp."
Russell Marston, Pauline Hodgetts, Don Marston
Once back home, Birnie began investigating who owned the island as well as the mainland next to it. He realized that the property which surrounded the island was key to future plans, and that it needed to be part of his purchase in order to prevent cottages which he foresaw popping up--although there were none at this time--on the shores across from his (future) camp.
Remember, no computers, no faxes, no scans for sending for information about these properties. Through a series of letters, Birnie found that the island was owned by an American woman who was happy to sell to Birnie.
The Boer War connection …
The 175 acres across from the island were not as easy to acquire. They were owned by a Mr. Kingsmill, a former army man who had fought in the Boer War and for which Queen Victoria had given soldiers of that war "land in the colonies."
Mr. Kingsmill's was that property on Georgian Bay, and Birnie wrote asking if he could purchase it. In the correspondence that followed, Mr. Kingsmill offered to send his brother, an Anglican Minister, to run the camp with Birnie. But Birnie wanted the camp to be for all with no religious connotations. In another letter, Mr. Kingsmill said he was tired of wet weather in England, and that he would come and partner with Birnie. Again, Birnie had to decline, noting that he had a very clear vision for the camp and wanted to be on his own to build it. With that, all communication stopped. Dad assumed that his dream was not going to come to true, at least not on that particular parcel of land, perfect as it may be.
And then a funny thing happened …
Then, about a year later, he received a letter from Mr. Kingsmill from his new home … in Mexico. He had moved there to escape those wet winters in England. He had also fallen in love with a Mexican girl named Carmelita, and he wanted to marry her. Apparently she would agree, but with conditions: only if she could have an English piano and lessons, as this was her dream. That was what the letter said, nothing more.
Birnie, being a clever man, saw his opportunity and wrote back letting Mr. Kingsmill know that he would pay to have a piano shipped from England and along with that some money for lessons. And Mr. Kingsmill agreed!
And so for the price of a piano and some piano lessons, Birnie Hodgetts finally had everything to build his camp, and to do it exactly as he wanted to. The mainland acreage protected us from the urbanization that, in time, did indeed come to the region. It now provides Hurontario campers with the opportunity to escape the city and come to a truly 'woodsy, unplugged' environment for the summer.
About Camp Hurontario
Since it was founded, Hurontario has been a camp for boys located in the islands of Georgian Bay, just two hours north of Toronto. Small-group philosophy, non-competitive atmosphere and camper input into programs build self-confidence, strong skills, lasting friendships. Sophisticated biology program emphasizes appreciation of the natural environment. Exciting intro-camp programs for boys aged five to eight. Two-week options are also available. Excellent staff-to-camper ratio: 110 staff for 185 campers. Leadership-in-Training programs for senior campers. Sailing, swimming, kayaking, rock climbing, ropes course, fishing, archery, art, woodworking and music. Northern outpost for senior canoe trips. Hurontario offers outdoor fun and excitement.
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