How Summer Camp Shapes Lives
Ghost tales, happy trails, visiting day, sneaking away, learning to grin, playing to win, arts and crafts, endless laughs and songs to make the memories last. The very best summer-camp stories as told by you.
Heart and Soul
To say I liked camp is an understatement. I loved everything about it, from the moment we arrived and were taken to a barn to fill our ticks with straw for our bedding to the nightly campfires where anyone could perform or tell a story. One night, an older camper got up. She had the thickest glasses I had ever seen and a head of unruly hair. As she launched into “Danny Boy,” a song I had never heard before, I was mesmerized. Her voice was so beautiful. Instantly, I knew that it didn’t matter what you looked like or what you wore; what really mattered was what came from your heart. This eureka moment has remained with me always.
-Judy Purcell, Stratford, Ont.
Camp Kitchigami, Goderich, Ont., 1951-56
At Girl Guides Camp, in 1948, two friends and I were wandering over the hills when we came upon a Boy Scouts Camp. We pretended to be lost and were invited for tea. We decided to keep our discovery to ourselves and visited the Scouts several more times to play cricket and have tea. Then, on our last day at camp, we were found out. We were severely upbraided for our behaviour and were told we would have been sent home-had we not been going home already. This is why they call me Bad Betty.
-Betty Neill, Gabriola Island, B.C.
Girl Guides Camp, Ballinluig, Scotland, 1947-49
Friends for Life
The best part about summer camp is the friends I’ve made. We worked together, laughed together and helped each other through life. Some have even married!
-Colleen Zimmerman, Leduc, Alta.
Alberta Community Cooperative Association Cooperative Youth Program, Goldeye Centre, Nordegg, Alta., 1976-80
I was sent to Camp Kanawana at the age of 10 because my mother, in all her wisdom, felt I needed some male influence (my father had died when I was three).
On a rainy Saturday in 1944, we took the train from Montreal Central Station to St. Sauveur, then bused up the bumpy gravel road to camp.
One of the counsellors checking us in and assigning us cabins asked my name. I responded, “Charles Smillie Buckland.”
He patted me on the head and said, “Hi, Smillie.”
The boy next to me overheard, and I was Smillie thereafter.
I was small for my age and probably lacked confidence, but I decided that first week, since no one knew me, that I could become anything I wanted to be. So I became an inveterate camper. I held the lake swim record. I was the first recipient of the coveted Green Triangle awarded to a camper who accomplished a series of feats. I was a member of the winning team in the first annual Lumberman/Voyageur competition.
I was fortunate to have many mentors who took me from childhood to manhood over the course of my seven years at camp. They taught me leadership, shaped my future and equipped me to take on any task. Kanawana changed my life, and I will be forever in its debt.
-Smillie Buckland, Mississauga, Ont.
YMCA Camp Kanawana, St. Sauveur, Que., 1944-51
I truly believe that YMCA day camp made me the woman I am today-who “lives in the bush” rather than in Toronto, where I grew up. I still sing the old camp songs while kayaking on our lake or walking in the woods (hoping my voice will scare off any bears!). I remember overnight trips where I learned about the beauty of the forest (which now surrounds me) and how to make a fire (which I do every day in our wood stove). Through the influence of wonderful leaders, I absorbed qualities that helped me in my nursing and teaching careers: patience, leadership, organization, innovation, creativity and tolerance.
I look forward to spending a week at family camp this summer with my grandchildren so they, in turn, can someday pass on all that they learn from camp to their own little ones.
-Stacey Amos, Walford, Ont.
Norwood Park YMCA Camp, Toronto, 1960-70
Rite of Passage
I signed up for Girl Guides for one reason only: a week at the group’s Doe Lake Girl Guides Camp. And what a week! Vying for that oh-so-coveted piece of white plastic lace that, when hung around your neck, meant you could swim well enough to have access to the deep part of the lake. Singing campfire songs long into the night. Listening to the coolest women tell you about astronomy, using icing from a camper’s birthday cake to illustrate constellations on the wall. Learning how to build shelters. Hearing ghost stories on a canoe trip.
Every girl should get to go to camp for a week at least once in her life,
because it makes her a better woman, a better Canadian. And because “on my honour, I will try” is a good motto to have written on your heart.
-Sherrie Charter, Mississauga, Ont.
Doe Lake Girl Guides Camp, Parry Sound, Ont., 1985-87
Path to Wellness
It was 1989, and our five-year-old daughter, Jill, was finally cancer-free after three long years of chemotherapy and radiation. The first Childhood Cancer Camp in New Brunswick had just opened in Belleisle Bay. So much of Jill’s short life had been about illness, and we felt the experience would be perfect for her. Plus, her little brother, Matthew, could go along, as well.
Arrival day was emotional. Here were kids, all in different stages of treatment, running around. There were smiles, laughter and excitement.
Jill was always shy and a bit withdrawn, and camp gave her strength and courage. She sang and danced and swam, did crafts, acted in plays. When she came home, she was radiant and smiling from ear to ear. For Jill and Matthew, camp was a place to heal, to let kids be kids, to be hugged and loved. Today, Jill is an amazing adult who found herself by going to camp.
-Judy Allen, St. Albert, Alta.
Songs of Summer
I was nine the first time I went to camp. We were greeted by mullet-haired counsellors singing “Here Comes the Sun” before being sent to lice check.
For me, music and camp memories are intrinsically linked. At the end of my first three weeks away from home, everyone gathered around the flagpole to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
Over the years, Steve Miller Band pulsed through ghetto blasters at the swimming dock as we jumped in the lake. Campfire classics like “American Pie” and “Cat’s in the Cradle” punctuated the darkness on overnight trips. “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Eye of the Tiger” played at Friday night socials. I eventually became a counsellor, and in my final year, Chantal Kreviazuk’s cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was released. Swaying to the lyrics, images from that first summer and all the ones in between came flooding back.
I packed my bags and left camp several weeks later.
-Adam Elliott Segal, Toronto
Camp Hatikvah, Oyama, B.C., 1987-93, 1996-99
Shooting for the Stars
I’d always been an athletic kid who played every sport and spent entire summers outdoors. It was a dream come true when my parents sent me to an overnight basketball camp for the first time. After that week was over,
I knew I was definitely going back. Sure enough, a few years later, I did return, but as a counsellor. I wanted to be a role model to kids. In exchange, I grew stronger, more confident, more self-reliant. I left that summer with a very different outlook on life. To this day, I never give up on my goals.
-Kaitlyn Bryson, Baden, Ont.
Olympia Sports Camp, Huntsville, Ont., 2003-04, 2007-08
Free to Be
I was very excited to go to camp the year I turned 11-the first time I would venture so far from home. Leading up to the date, I assured my mother I was ready to go for two whole weeks.
Finally the day came. We reached the camp after a six-hour drive. I registered and met my counsellor, then waved my mom away with confidence, eager to take the swim test and start having fun. Camp was more than I had imagined: crafts and elaborate games; canoeing, singing and swimming every day; making bracelets for new friends; listening to our counsellor read to us before falling asleep to the sound of rain on a metal roof.
When the weekend arrived, there was a luncheon for visiting parents and families. I met some of my campmates’ relatives, then snuck away with a sandwich. I went down to the docks to watch the water bugs skate across the surface of the lake. My counsellor came and sat companionably beside me. She quietly asked if I was okay.
I told her it was too far for my family to visit. I remember not looking at her or saying anything for what seemed like a long time. It felt like talking might change the magic of the place. But I also wanted her to know me just a little better, so I told her that my dad had died only a few weeks before, whispering “cancer,” just like I had heard the adults say it.
She put her arm around my shoulder, and we sat for a while longer. It felt like she understood.
Summer camp gave me the opportunity to be an ordinary kid for a brief time that year-just a girl learning, laughing and having fun like everyone else.
-Marcia Andkilde, Arkona, Ont.
Pioneer Camp, Port Sydney, Ont., 1984-85
Picture this: a gangly 13-year-old girl who went to summer camp, hoping to stay indoors all day. To my chagrin, we had to choose an outdoor activity, so I selected water-skiing-or, in my case, water-falling. Embarrassing! And made worse by the fact that both instructors were super cute. At the end of the first day, I was homesick, sunburned and way out of my comfort zone. But my counsellor encouraged me to wait before passing judgment.
The next afternoon, as I approached the water-skiing dock, one of the staff called, “Ashley! Welcome back!” With some encouragement, I did three laps on the skis without tumbling. That night, I chatted with the cute instructors at the campfire. By the end of the week, I felt like a champion water skier and I didn’t hate the outdoors.
In my teen years I became a counsellor and later the director of a camp. I wanted to help others overcome challenges and succeed in ways they never thought possible.
-Ashley Bailey, Toronto
Visual Arts Camp at Camp Walden, Bancroft, Ont., 2000
In 2013, eight-year-old Gabriel* was at camp for the first time, and as his counsellor, I welcomed him with open arms. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a nightmare camper and left after only four days.
The situation didn’t sit right with me: Gabriel deserved to be far away from whatever troubled him at home. I spent the next year hoping he’d be back for another try.
The following summer, he was indeed registered. I had made him miserable for those four days, but he’d still been looking forward to seeing me.
The two weeks went by in a flash, and Gabriel earned his first badge. You should have seen the pride in his eyes… and in my heart.
-Antoine Kack, Sherbrooke, Que.
Le Manoir des Éboulements, Charlevoix, Que., 2003-08, 2010-15
*Name has been changed.