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.”
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 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.
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.
The Cube School offers a creative learning environment where technology and design thinking converge. Which sounds like a lot, and it is. Still, the camp offers a lot more than that. This story comes to us from Eren Fernandez, founder of The Cube, Technology & Video Game Design School
One of the most touching stories this summer comes from a boy name Ben [name has been changed]. He came to our technology summer camp. He has autism. The first day Ben came it was difficult for him to interact with the other kids so the day, in general, was a bit challenging.
On his second day some kids that had been sitting beside him asked Ben to join in and sit along with them. He started to feel included as the day progressed and we noticed that he was actually being cared by the other campers. They were saving him a seat, assisting him with outdoor activities like capture the flag, making him feel at ease.
On the last day of camp, we gave all the campers boxes with goodies, and we asked them to have the boxes signed by other campers. Ben's box got signed by almost all campers, and the notes of encouragement were touching. One of the boys said, “Ben, you are my best friend, I hope I can see you here next year,” and gave him a warm hug.
This gesture from all kids that helped Ben during that week made our whole summer worth it.
About The Cube, Technology & Video Game Design School
The Cube School offers a creative learning environment where technology and design thinking converge. At The Cube our focus is in 4 primary disciplines: Video Game Design, Programming, Robotics, and Specialized programs geared towards media and other relevant technology subjects. The Cube’s mission is to get all our students to be makers of technology, not just consumers.
A few camps chose to host new Canadians from Syria this past summer, though Glen Bernard Camp was a leader in that regard. Certainly the camp has not just a history of making great summers, but providing an example of what camp can do, and what it should. Here, Kim Graydon writes about The GBC for Syria: A Summer Camp Experience program.
“Yes, I think they loved camp. I met a Syrian camper and she said she was having the time of her life and she loved it. I got to know this girl named Dalya. She was super nice and she said she loved this camp and if she could she would live here”.
-Saige, Glen Bernard Camp camper
GBC for Syria was a special salute to 95 years of shared camp experiences, camp values, and camp skills. Owner and Director of Glen Bernard, Jocelyn Palm, extended an invitation to 26 female Syrian newcomers to spend a week at GBC this past summer. The plan was for 24 newcomers, but as is common with girls, there were two more friends, and could they please join too?! Of course!
Campers breathe life into a camp and our Syrian campers left us filled with a sense of joy as well as of gratitude for getting to know them and hope for the positive impact camp made on them. We know that the Syrian campers met new friends, experienced many firsts: swimming, horseback riding, climbing in the high ropes, vegetarian lasagna, flying down the zipline, canoeing, dumping a sailboat, sleeping away from their families and finding a new camp family.
And what about the impact made on us? It was a significant and wide reaching one.
Our campers were their best selves. One of our camper surveys stated “every day we worked on including everyone. We made sure all of us were together.” The girls looked after each other. For our Syrian campers, that meant they knew where to go at all times, they had a friend to take them to the washroom in the middle of the night, someone to give them encouragement when it was time to jump into the lake!
For many of our campers, it personalized the news headlines they had been reading for months. Some of the Syrian girls shared their personal experiences with their cabin mates and staff. There is nothing more impactful in terms of education than listening to someone who has experienced what you are learning about.
But it was more than that, too. One particular example that stands out is the enormity of empathy one Syrian camper exhibited in her opportunity to learn how to swim. She confided that she felt lucky to be able to try swimming and that she should leap at the chance but that she was having trouble with it as so many Syrians had drowned trying to escape to safety and she wished they too could have had this opportunity to learn to swim. If they had, maybe they would be alive today. In this moment, campers did what they do best. They hugged her and, even without words, she knew she was listened to and understood.
Summer camp is an invaluable experience to give to children. It helps kids to learn respect for someone else’s opinion, being kind even when someone isn’t being nice, devise solutions for how to live and get along with each other, appreciate people’s differences and how to have just good plain old fun! The interpersonal skills campers acquire are invaluable tools for their future. Negotiating friendships, business deals, teamwork challenges? No problem. They have the experience and they learned it at summer camp.
About Glen Bernard Camp
Glen Bernard provides fun, adventure and opportunities to build self-confidence. A wide variety of activities challenge each age and skill level. Well-qualified and caring staff includes a resident physician. GBC has a significant commitment to environmental sustainability in all aspects of facilities and program. Our unique Living Lightly Lab with rooftop gardens, and a solar powered boat are examples of initiatives to educate campers in environmental stewardship. Located just north of Huntsville on 730 acres with a kilometer of safe shoreline. Various session options for ages 4-16. Request an info package and visit our website for details. Established 1922.
What is camp? It’s many things of course, and some of them can still be surprising, though in all the right ways. This story comes to us from Lara Willis, co-director at Camp Wilvaken in the Quebec Townships.
Two weeks after I was born, I was brought to camp by my parents who were/are the owners and directors of Wilvaken. I have spent more of my life at camp than probably anywhere else in the world. From a young age, my parents encouraged me to try out other camps during the summer, but I never did. I was afraid that I would miss out on making new friendships at Wilvaken, reconnecting with people I only ever saw for 2 weeks or a month of the year, and that I wouldn't see the crazy and unique theme days that I looked forward to each summer. I cried at the end of every month when my friends would leave. I remember the staff asking me why I was crying – I had the chance to stay longer! Really, it was because they - the connections that I built during that short period of time - were leaving. Although it turns out, they were connections that would last a lifetime.
Finally, when I was 16, I went to work at a different camp for 3 summers. I met some of my best friends there, but I was always thinking about when I would return to Wilvaken. When I did, I knew that I was making the right choice and that there was something special about camp; about my camp.
One tradition we have at Wilvaken happens during the second to last night. We have a campfire, accompanied by lots of songs and guitar playing (of course!). Once it gets dark out, we send the campers cabin by cabin down to the beach. In silence, they follow a candle-lit path through the woods so that they may reflect on their time here. There are always tears, hand-holding, and hugs. As they make their way down to the beach, a final tune is heard through the trees. Words written by a staff member years ago who tried to capture the essence of Wilvaken. “Now it's time to say our goodbyes and part in different ways. Don't forget all our great times that we had day after day. And to all the campers here, I think you all know what I mean when I say that we are not just friends, but a great big family.”
Once on the beach, the entire camp gathers in a circle and has the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the time they spent together. To an outsider, this may sound a bit like a cult. But to someone who has done this almost every summer of her life, it is one of the most touching experiences. As a camper, I was often intimidated to step into the circle and speak in front of everyone. It was daunting; what if I said the wrong thing? What if somebody laughed? But this year, for my first summer as camp director, I was the one to initiate the sharing. I was the one to ensure that everyone felt comfortable.
I stepped into the circle, trembling slightly and unsure of what I would say. Funny how I was able to address the entire camp on a regular basis, but this one moment really stuck with me. I invited campers and staff alike to share their thoughts on what Wilvaken brought to them this summer. I explained how honoured I was to have grown up in this place and that I could welcome each of them into my Wilvaken family.
Little by little, campers and staff stepped in. One of our youngest campers shared that he no longer called Wilvaken a second home, but rather, just his home. Others with similar feelings piped up. I stood on the edge of the circle and watched the magic happen. This is what we call the Wilvy Spirit. I can't capture it in a picture, but it certainly is beautiful to hear the words.
How can one put camp into words? When I tell people that I'm a 'camp person,' an image automatically pops into their head that I spend every day dressed up in costume, I sing around the campfire, and I have an endless amount of energy; I'm also probably quite good at remembering people's names, coming up with games on the spot, and I can keep track of a large group of youth like none other.
As much as all that is quite true, there's a whole other side to the camp world that can't easily be captured in an image. Yes, a picture says a thousand words, but when you have a moment to sit quietly and chat with someone by a campfire, or to sit on a dock in silence and enjoy a beautiful sunset, no one is around with a camera. These are the important moments at camp – a time when you develop a sense of self, and an appreciation for the world around you.
Words, pictures, songs... I'm not sure anything will ever truly capture the essence of what it feels like to belong here, but we all try anyway. After all, once another camp season has sung its last song, the memories in photographs and writing are all that we have left of each other until next time. As a past camper mused:
“I don't know how to capture what has happened to me over the course of five years at Wilvaken, but I know for sure that it is more than the sailing or the theme days, or anything else; it cannot be summed up by the word fun. I don't know just where I'm going, and I'm scared, but this place takes me away like no person or song ever will be able to, and I thank it for that.”
- Henri, camper 2006-2010
Wilvaken is known for its small, welcoming community. Campers of all ages learn together in a natural environment. Situated in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, we offer a traditional experience with the opportunity to get to know everyone and everything! Our natural beach allows for many waterfront activities, while our land sports include archery, tennis, riding, survival skills and more! Our bilingual approach allows campers to develop their language skills outside of a classroom setting. We host campers from Quebec, Ontario and internationally. We are proud of the warm & caring atmosphere, carried on into its third generation of a family-run camp. Be a part of our Wilvaken family this year - Where everyone knows your name.
You don’t need a lake or cabins, a campfire or a dock. Camp isn’t about stuff, it’s about people and spirit. An empty parking lot, an airport waiting room, the forest--wherever it is, counsellors can bring campers together around a task and have fun at the same time. It’s all about thinking fast, having fun, and going with it. This story, from Iris Ibarra of Camp Chelsea, is a great example of that and then some …
When people think of summer camp, they probably don’t think of a hotel in downtown Toronto. But, that’s where Camp Chelsea is held each summer: the Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street in the very heart of the city.
Each summer we have day camp sessions for children from 5 to 12 years of age. There are games, arts and crafts, treasure hunts, orienteering. We swim in the pool, and the giant corkscrew waterslide is always a big hit! We also do things that you can’t do at more traditional camps, such as behind the scenes tours of the hotel. The kids love that because they get to see things that most visitors to the hotel don’t ever have a chance to.
One of the best experiences we’ve have had with Camp Chelsea was a unique one, even for us. As you can imagine, all the usual activities of the hotel are going on in addition to the camp, including all the usual guests and conferences. One summer the Canadian Alopecia Areata Foundation (CANAAF) was holding their national conference here, and they arrived from across the country.
Because it was the summer, many guests brought their families along as well. Somebody got the idea to hold a special camp for the children of those attending the meetings … everyone thought it was a great idea, so we did! There were about 20 kids aged 5 – 12, as well as 19 teens and we were together for the duration of the conference. We took the kids swimming, made arts and crafts and edible art, played games such as bingo, “minute to win it” and "family fear factor.”
Both the campers and the counsellors said that it was one of the most rewarding experiences they have ever had. The director of the CANAAF thought so too. She wrote the following note as thanks to the Camp Chelsea team, address to JP, the camp director:
I have just come home from holidays and have opened my mail to see the usb Key you sent us with the wonderful montage of our Kids Camp experience at the Chelsea Hotel.
Thanks so much for the picture PowerPoint presentation for running such an amazing Camp for our kids! It's wonderful and I will be showing our CANAAF families on November 8th at our next Toronto Support Session.
CANAAF has sent a survey to all attendees. The Feedback we received from both the Kids Camp and Teen Camp was outstanding. I can tell you my daughter loves her t-shirts and the friendly staff, and my son said the teen program was "great." He said the Minute To Win It Team Building event was the best activity he has even been a part of.
Thank you and your incredible team you for giving our kids such a memorable experience.
All the best,
How great is that?!
About Camp Chelsea
When school's out, Camp Chelsea is open! Camp Chelsea, located within Chelsea Hotel, Toronto, is a supervised day camp for children aged 5 to 12. Offering an extensive line-up of activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. including meals (lunch and snacks), behind-the-scenes tours, 130-ft indoor Corkscrew waterslide and more.