Camps Where Friendships Begin

Fast friends and lifelong friendships begin here

"We’re best friends to this day because of our summers together," says Mary Chigogidze of Mark Fry, now both directors of Camp Santosh in Quebec. 

    It’s a world where everyone spends too much time on their phones.  Our connections to each other are mainly through Snapchat and Messenger, and too often these cause as much harm as help. You really can’t ever get too much face-to-face fun, and that’s exactly what summer camp excels at.  It’s the classic forum for friendship formation. 

    Having fun together, meeting and beating challenges, being outside and learning new things together is a surefire way to begin lifelong friendships. Here are 15 camps you need to know about, camps that excel at friendship development.


    Bricks4kidz Beaches Leslieville

    For kids, Bricks 4 Kids is a Lego program: they see is a chance to indulge their interest along with other kids who share it, and otherwise dive in to a lot of cool stuff. For parents and teachers, it’s a means of interesting kids in STEAM topics, and take part in summer, afterschool, weekend, and holiday programs that support and extend the school science, physics, and math curriculum. The programs are well conceived, expertly run, and informed by a thorough knowledge of the public school curricular expectations and outcomes. There’s  a lot to love. The wealth of programs both through the summer and during the school year provide a consistent outlet that children can return to, and feel comfortable in, throughout the year.


    Halton Interfaith Peace Camp

    We tend to think of camp as one thing: sleepaway, campfires, smores. Of course, there are many different camps, and while fun is an aspect of all of them, there are other purposes as well. The Halton Interfaith Peace Camp, clearly, has a unique and absolutely compelling purpose: gather kids together to have fun while celebrating their differences and understanding their similarities. The camp session offers a unique and valuable perspective on the surrounding community and the campers’ places within it.


    True North Climbing - Day Camp

    It’s often said that climbers climb mountains because they’re there, though, in actual fact, it’s not as much about the mountain as it is the process of addressing it. Any climb is a personal journey, and the creation of True North Climbing has been as well. Previously a tech professional, John Gross founded True North in 2010 less out of a proficiency with climbing—he’s the first to admit that at that time his enthusiasm outpaced his ability—than an understanding of the values and the lessons that climbing brings to a community. Teamwork, confidence, cooperation, challenge by choice—all of those things are at the core of climbing, and the camps allow an opportunity to extend them to young people. The facility is arresting and impressive in all kinds of great ways. It’s big, colourful. It’s also clearly very ordered, professional, and technical. Kids naturally approach the environment with respect, because that’s what the space and the staff both demand. The community that has developed at True North ranges from absolute beginners—the facility hosts birthday parties, which are many kids first experience of it—to national competitors at the very top of the sport. The counsellors are highly qualified and accredited, and the passion that they bring to the sport is an important part of the camper experience. Session enrolments are kept intentionally low in order to maximize time in participation. Weekend scrambles, school holiday sessions, and seasonal registration packages allow kids to extend the camp experience through the year.


    InterVarsity Circle Square Ranch Wolf Creek

    Begun 1929, the InterVarsity camps contribute to the goal of creating unique opportunities to bring young people together around the personal challenges that a camp setting can provide. At camp kids unplug and turn their attention to the community they find there. The activities facilitate a greater understanding of campers’ talents and abilities, as well as the Christian values that inform the programming.


    Camp Santosh

    Camp should be fun, of course, though it should also be more than that, and Camp Santosh is a great example of that. The property is huge, including a wealth of woodland and shoreline, and just being within this environment can transformative. That said, the values through which the programming is delivered is a primary draw for many of the families that enroll here. There is a focus on active living, but also living well. Personal wellness is developed through mindfulness activities and nutrition. Campers are encouraged to look outward as well, developing stewardship toward each other, the natural environment, and beyond. The values of volunteerism, for example, are subtly reinforced at the beginning of each day. In all of that, Santosh offers a fresh take on the traditions of camping.


    Camp North Star

    Not all camps conform to the idea that many people might have of camp, though North Star, in all the best ways, truly does. On a wooded property, on a lake, it offers all the traditional activities that you’d expect from a summer camp. That said, the experience isn’t really about activities; those things are just tools that the counsellors and staff use to do other, better things, such as encouraging campers to gain a sense of themselves, their talents and challenges, and a greater understanding of their place in the world. Steven and Brooke Bernstein are the definition of camp people, having spent the better portion of their lives at camp, thinking about camp, and developing the programs at North Star. As such, were you to ask them about what the camp offers, they’d talk about values, friendships, resilience, and community. That’s what camp is all about, and is also the reason that parents, rightly, turn to Camp North Star.


    Albion Hills Field Centre

    Located at the headwaters of the Oak Ridges Moraine, Albion Hills Conservation Area is a natural heritage site comprised of more than 1200 acres of mixed-use green space. Founded in 1955, it's the first conservation facility of its kind in Ontario (as well as home to perhaps the largest breeding colony of herons in Southern Ontario). As such, the property has been a focal point of environmental stewardship for upwards of half a century, and the summer camps were begun in order to extend the work of the field centre. The facilities are exceptional, with all the mod cons and then some. The resources are many and varied, and the camps make good use of all of them. The trails are extensive, and the natural heritage is as well, and the camps seek to allow time engage actively with the habitat and the wildlife populations that it supports. The human resources are notable as well, and campers enter a setting of expertise, interacting with nature with those who have invested their lives in promoting environmental awareness and conservation. The camps are relatively new, though the setting, facilities, resources, and culture are long established and exceptionally managed.


    The Wylde Swan

    One of a kind, experience of a lifetime, dream come true—the Wylde Swan is certainly all of that. Sailing Europe on a tall ship with like-minded peers from around the world and a world-class crew. It’s as good as it sounds. The administration of the Wylde Swan is world class, as are the amenities on board. It’s challenging. Participants join the crew, and are responsible for all the functions of the ship, from trimming the sails to swabbing the decks. That said, the program is centered around the soft skills as well, namely working as part of a team, giving of yourself while also providing space for others to give of themselves. It’s a chance to see a part of the world from a unique vantage point while, even better, growing into a sense of your place within it.


    Swallowdale Camp

    Swallowdale began its life in 1943, and moved to its current location, in the heart of Muskoka, in 2017. The leadership has remained in the Walbank family, though since 1996 operations have been overseen by Canadian International Student Services (CISS), something that makes the program essentially one of a kind. Campers arrive each summer from around the world, providing all of them—including those who arrive domestically—an international experience. The programming is traditional, as is the setting, though includes supports, such as ESL instruction, for those arriving from overseas. The international feel, and exposure to peers from around the world, is one of the strengths of the Swallowdale environment, and for many families is a principal draw. The focus of the programming is on providing fun while building leadership, interpersonal skills, and self awareness.


    Ranch Massawippi

    The facilities at Ranch Massawippi are in themselves a draw―there is a consistent, well-tended, feel to all the program areas, from the stables, that are spotless, to the wilderness program areas. This is a place where both kids and horses can be happy, which is important, to be sure. The programs are expertly run, and well-staffed. A draw for many families is the immersion in the French language, and campers have no choice but to build their language skills, and they do, often to remarkable levels given their relatively short time at camp. The month-long sessions are of particular interest to teens who wish to improve their French in order to improve academic standing or to study abroad. Academic interests aside, it’s a very strong, well developed camp that offers a unique suite of activities in a traditional camp setting.


    Explorer Hop Toronto

    There is a camp for every interest, and ExplorerHop is proof of the point. It's a family-created, family-run camp aimed at engaging kids around the topics of geography, international travel, and money management. It's perhaps not the most obvious pairing of themes, but it works, particularly given the energy and expertise of the staff. It's a great option for kids who are looking for something a bit different. Like any camp, it also attracts kids of a like interests and passions, allowing them to express them in a group of like-minded peers. Well-concieved, and expertlly run, there's a lot to love at ExplorerHop. 


    YMCA John Island Camp

    You really can’t go wrong with a YMCA camp, and there are a few very good reasons for that. The Y has been fully invested in camp programs since Taylor Statten first developed them for the Y in 1902. In the years since, the programs have grown and diversified, literally providing the models that the vast majority of camps looked to when they created their programs. John Island, in particular, offers a charming, traditional camp experience: the poetic vision of nights around the campfire, days on the water, friends everywhere and not a device in sight. It’s a model that has worked to develop initiative and confidence in young people for more than 100 years, and John Island is a great demonstration of why that is. Leadership programs may even apply toward high school credit, which is a nice plus. That said, the inter-generational engagement, the opportunities to grow through graduated, appropriate challenges, is why families turn first to John Island. As well they should.


    Camp Nokomis

    Camp Nokomis is one of those little gems of the camping world. The program was established in 1957, and has carried happily along its way ever since. The goals are those of traditional camping, namely to get kids working together, having fun together, as they grow into a sense of themselves and their place in the world. Values are a big part of it, as they should be. The leadership is the best advertisement for the camp, with Jay and Vicki Haddad being the definition of camp people. They do it because they love it, and it shows. Sunny summer days, spent outdoors, with others. This is what it’s all about. The fact that it’s fairly close by is a nice plus, too.


    Camp Bil-o-wood

    Tradition is important. It provides a window onto a wider world, and a chance to tap into something larger than ourselves. That kind of tradition provides a basis for the offering at Bil-O-Wood. Founded in 1946 and run by four generations of the same family, it remains consistent with its roots, offering a chance to really engage with the foundation of camping in Canada. Kids perhaps don't really care, at least not in an intellectual way, and that's fine. What they do appreciate, whether or not they express it, is the opportunity to step outside the bustle of their lives, to spend a bit of time in nature, and to live for a time through a different set of priorities. For many families, that, very rightly, is what camp is all about.

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