"Everything I needed to know, I learned at camp," says Dr. Carolyn Bennett, a Toronto MP who was Canada's minister of state for public health in the previous Liberal government. "From living together in a small space, I learned that what you do affects others, so your actions have consequences. From using composting toilets, I started to learn about environmental awareness. And I learned about governance--who makes the rules, and how to change rules that don't make sense."
From ages eight to 21, Bennett attended Camp Shawanaga, which is now closed, where the well-loved old cabins bore whimsical scribblings like "Champlain slept here." Bennett got her lifeguard certification and joined the staff, leading groups on canoe trips. "Being a camp counsellor requires some of the same job skills as being a family doctor," says Bennett. "You ask what's wrong, you listen, you carry first-aid kits and you deal with problems like constipation, diarrhea and ear infections."
In high school, Bennett realized that it was the kids who'd gone to camp who filled the leadership positions, such as student council. While doing pre-med, she noticed that camp alumni were often the only ones to join field hockey or ice hockey teams, even if they'd never played before. "Camp people were more likely to try something new just for fun, while others weren't inclined to participate unless they were excellent at it."
Her mentors at camp have always been important to her: the person who gave the bridal toast at Bennett's wedding was Jean Hartman, the camp director from Shawanaga; the first person Bennett went to when she was forming a group to help save Toronto's Women's College Hospital was the camp director, Jocelyn Palm, from Glen Bernard. She says, "At camp I always met amazing people who made--and are still making--a difference."