My parents encouraged us to attend camp because they encouraged independent thinking, curiosity and a love of nature. I had different types of experiences at camp. My mother was a counsellor for church camps but I wasn’t there to learn about religion or values, but to become a leader, which I learned from being a camp counsellor.
Camp allowed me an opportunity to separate from my parents, to start to think differently from them. I think parents need to learn when to back off and let kids grow and develop their own sets of values.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned at camp?
I am still learning lessons today and thinking about what I learned from camp that wasn’t important then, but is now. It’s important to recognize the value of lessons throughout life.
Camp gave me the ability to experience new things in a new setting and to bring these new experiences back to my family and friends.
At camp I also learned the difference between a leader and follower and how to take pride in my own unique experiences.
I loved how everything at camp was new – a new setting and new opportunities for growth gave me the ability to come back and be a different person within the family unit.
Camp encourages kids to become well rounded and not shallow. Camp provides a wealth of experiences, flexibility and teaches kids how to deal with people.
What is your most memorable camp moment?
One of the church camps that my sister and I were at was on Manitoulin Island, and so all the kids were brought in by boat. My sister and I would paddle these huge birch bark war canoes with the kids and their luggage from the camp’s floating dock to the Island. It was back breaking and we did it over and over that day. It was hard work but we just sang songs and did it. When you’re in your teens and you have a goal or mission you just band together to get it done.
Is there a funny story that resonates when you think of camp?
There are so many experiences to choose from. One time at Doe Lake it rained for two weeks, and there were no floors, and the air mattresses were sliding and floating out of the tents. We had to grease the logs to get the campfires going.
To the credit of our leaders, they were always positive and had a way of making the experience not difficult, but one to embrace. It shows character when you’re put in an adverse situation and you make it work. Camp teaches you to find the stuff within. You duke it out, you learn to look at the good in life, even when it’s raining.
What was the best thing about camp?
Being in the natural environment and being sensitive to things that I normally would not be able to touch, feel or hear. That was the most precious thing.
Being in space and being able to see what happens on another planet and then come back to Earth and see the things that we have - hear a bird sing or touch a tree. Students who had only learned about trees in school and came out to camp and saw things in the 3D world were flabbergasted at the varieties. It’s like going around the moon and never being allowed to land on it. I learned a different perspective in space and being able to come back and see a tree for the first time changed my perspective of things here on Earth.
How did your camp experience play a role in your career journey?
Camp helped me prepare for the space program where I spent over 8 days with 6 people in a structure that was basically the size of an outhouse!
In addition to working well in small, closed environments camp helped me to learn how to be independent and dependent at the same time, as well as to simultaneously be a leader and a follower, which is critical in the space program but you must do this at camp also.
Camp and the space program were both always about negotiations. In the camp setting you’re in a position where you can’t negotiate with nature. You have to learn to go with an environment that you cannot control. This helped greatly in the space program because there were situations where the atmosphere was so challenging and you just had to make it work.
Do you stay in touch with friends from camp?
I have one real lifelong friend I made at camp. We met later on in Girl Guides Camp – we were in Sea Rangers and went to Guelph together. We took a similar path. She has three kids who all went to camp and her grandchildren go to camp. And camping is so important to the fabric of the family. We know each other so well we don’t even need to talk all the time. She is now a director in the Roberta Bondar Foundation and we are working together to get people to be more sensitive to the outdoors.
Do you recommend parents send their kids to camp? Why?
Yes, but I recommend getting kids involved in deciding what kind of camp. Give kids the input in choosing where to go. For myself, my parents would plant the seed by saying ‘Hey this looks interesting’, and my sister and I would do the research, and then ask to go to camp.
Choosing a camp should be an ongoing conversation. You can’t expect a child to buy in to something because you tell them to. There are ways to deal with it so they don’t feel like they’re being sent. Kids need to see the value of going to camp. Don’t live your life as a user of experience. Live life as a creator of experiences.