BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN
Dave Cole jokes that he’s about as excited to see the 50th anniversary of Camp Manitou as he was to celebrate his recent 82nd birthday.
The long-time camp volunteer was there on the day the first group of campers, girls aged seven to nine years old, were brought into the Anglican church camp, located on the scenic North Shore of Lake Huron. Because there was no dock, the children climbed from the boat which had transported them from nearby Whitefish Falls, into a smaller boat, and were pushed to shore.
“There was a big log on the beach,” Cole said. “The kids were told to sit on that log. They sat there quietly. I came back a week later. The kids were saying ‘Whoopee!’ They were a completely different bunch of kids. It’s the same kind of idea as today.”
The camp was originally founded in 1925 as an adventure camp for American boys. In the late 1950s, the property was purchased by W.H. Kiefaber, who owned a nearby cottage. Kiefaber donated the camp to the Diocese of Algoma to be used as a youth camp. In the 1940s and 1950s, the diocese had been running youth camps out of the church, rectory, and schools in Whitefish Falls. These programs were transferred to Camp Manitou in 1960.
Cole said the camp came with most of the same infrastructure it has now, including the main lodge, 10 sleeping cabins, and Voyageur House (a facility located on the fringes of camp property). During the diocese’s first camping season at Camp Manitou, four camps were run – junior and senior boys, junior girls, and Anglican Young People (a co-ed camp for teenagers), Cole said.
The camping program has gradually expanded, and today, it features 10 different youth, family and specialty camps. Cole said that he and his late first wife, Eleanor, started the first family camp in the mid-1960s. At family camp, people get a chance to spend a loosely structured, relaxing week at camp.
“We had made up a poster, and posted it around, and there wasn’t a person that applied,” he said. “The next summer we thought we’d invite all our friends…Most of that group camp back.”
These days, Camp Manitou runs four family camps throughout the month of August.
In the early years, the camp featured a strong canoe out tripping program. In 1967, in honour of Expo 67, a group of campers and leaders canoed from Camp Manitou to Montreal, where the exhibition was taking place. It took them three and a half weeks. Cole has fond memories of accompanying his then-teenage daughters, Anne and Leigh, on a three-week girls’ canoeing trip in the James Bay region in 1972. Fellow long-time camp volunteers Rev. Bill Stadnyk and his wife, Doreen, joined Cole as leaders on this trip. “The canoe that Anne was in tipped over on the shores of James Bay,” Cole said. “They were cruising along in beautiful, long, long swells. They were just getting ready to go down this wave, when whitewater broke along the full length of the canoe.” They managed to get the girls safely to shore, and although some paddles and supplies were lost, they continued the trip. Cole said he and the Stadnyks actually carved some paddles out of wood for the girls.
The camp’s canoeing program was eventually scaled back. However, this tradition is being revived in 2010. Between July 3-17, a group of boys will take part in an extended canoeing trip on the North Channel. Anyone interested in taking part is invited to phone Bill Brims at (519) 754-4905.
Rev. Canon Bain Peever has been involved in Camp Manitou since 1963, when he was a young minister. He is now the head of the camp’s executive board. In celebration of 50 years of camping, Peever is inviting people to donate $50 to Camp Manitou in 2010. He said one of the camp’s most important achievements in recent years has been the capital campaign, where $400,000 was donated by benefactors to improve camp facilities.
Camp Manitou also recently incorporated, meaning that it now exists as a separate entity from the Diocese of Algoma. “When we took it over, it wasn’t our fault, but it was in a pretty run-down situation,” he said. “It was held together with barbed wire and nails, so to speak. We kept working as volunteers with what we had. It got better and better every year. When we were able to provide the volunteer with more materials, we were able to upgrade the camp.” “It’s just marvellous to see what we’ve accomplished.”
For more information about Camp Manitou’s 2010 camping season, visit www.manitoucamp.org.