The Our Kids review of The Taylor Statten Camps
The traditions we associate with residential summer camp—the values, the activities, the aesthetics—are in many respects due to the work of one man: Taylor Statten. Returning home from the Boer War, Statten joined the YMCA in 1902 and soon became the national Boy’s Work Secretary, a position that included the directorship of Camp Couchiching in Orillia, ON. He also established the Canadian Standards Efficiency Training program, a series of graded activity levels intended to give children the opportunity and incentive to develop intellectual, social, and physical skills.
What made Statten’s programs unique was the focus that he brought to them. In place of the regimented, sum-is-better-than-its-parts approach of scouting and cadets, Statten built programs around the individual, seeking to develop each child’s potential and to celebrate their individual strengths. Camping in Statten’s hands was about expression, independence, and an appreciation of the diversity inherent in any group. Adventure and resourcefulness were important, but so was imagination, identity, and a close appreciation the natural environment.
In 1916, Statten put his ideas into practice by founding Camp Ahmek, a camp for boys set within the boundaries of Algonquin park. The centerpiece of the camp, then as now, was the stone fireplace in the main hall, one that Tom Thomson helped build, hauling sand for the mortar that would bind the stones. Pierre Trudeau would sit before that fireplace as a camper, as did all three of his sons. Justin Trudeau, in speaking of camp, described his experience, giving what is, effectively, a précis of Statten’s initial vision: “[camp] had an immeasurable impact on my family and me. For my father, my brothers and I, being campers and counsellors at Ahmek taught us much about nature, about responsibility, and, most importantly, about ourselves.”
Wapomeo, a sister camp to Ahmek, followed in 1924 and, taken together, the two camps provided a model for many, many camps to come that, in turn, reflected the organization and the values that Ahmek and Wapomeo had demonstrated.
It’s quite a story, in every way, and one that continues today. These two camps provide a definition of the culture of camping in Canada, and that’s because they provided a model for so many of them, as well as the great work they continue to do.
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