a peek inside the fishbowl

14 Aug, 2009

Summer camp and a visit back in time

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|Photography|travel talk

I went to two summer camps. One was called Camp Bellaleo. I spent a few weeks there during the summer before fifth grade. The second camp was a Czech-language camp in the heart of Scarborough (I know, I wouldn’t believe there’s a camp there either) which I attended in my early teens and later stayed on as camp counsellor and, when I was about 19, camp director. (I think management wasn’t able to find anyone else interested in the job!)

This week we had the opportunity to visit some friends whose family runs a summer camp for children in the Temagami area.

Camp Wabikon is a helluva drive from Ottawa – it took us about six hours – but it was well worth it. It is a gorgeous part of the province. This is Canadian Shield country, rugged and wild with tall evergreens dotting a wide expanse of rock. For me, this is the kind of topography I love. It’s a place where hunting, fishing, and canoeing are common pursuits and life revolves around the many lakes and rivers. This isn’t living off  the land as it is living with the land. It is glorious and good for the soul.

The camp itself is on Lake Temagami. It had its beginnings as a hunting lodge and has been a children’s camp since around WWII.

Our long drive came to a close at the end of a long gravel road and finally, a dock where a boat was waiting to bring us across with all of our stuff. It was Emma and Sarah’s first time in a motor boat.

On the way to Wabikon

When we arrived we got a big tour and were introduced to all the staff. And then the girls left us and were rarely seen again. They assimilated themselves into camp life without a second thought and took part in everything that was offered to them, including a canoe trip and hike to High Rock across the lake:

BFC (Big Fun Canoe)

View from High Rock on Lake Temagami

… as well as some time in the swimming area:

sunny dock

Lifeguard chair at Wabikon

Mark and I had a campsite about a 15-minute canoe trip away from camp.

Packing the canoe

En route to our campsite by canoe

It was right on the water, nestled in the trees:


We got rained out one night (at which point we were rescued and brought back to camp to sleep in a cabin) but had a gorgeous sunset on our second night (sans children):

Sunset by our camp site

… which became a wonderful star-filled night. We lay out on a rock and watched shooting stars. It was so quiet at night that our ears were ringing.

FYI: I survived the digging of the latrine. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this when we set out, but you know what? It beats the stinky outhouses of a regular campground. ‘Nuff said.

Mark and I spent a lot of time at the camp. While we walked around I experienced one deja vu on top of another. The wooden beams in the dining hall:

Dining Hall at Camp Wabikon

… the expansive landscape in which water plays such an integral role:

Swimming area

… the fishing, the canoes… it all came rushing back to me. The experience of being at summer camp is very unique. Camp has a culture all of its own. Either you’ve been there or you haven’t. Either you get it or you don’t. And explaining this all to non-camp people is nearly impossible.

I was talking to someone about it before we left and wasn’t able to do it justice. How could I explain the camaraderie? The relationships? The experience of living outside the watchful eye of our parents? The traditions?

At my first camp we sang a prayer song before every meal. (And this was not a religious camp! For context, keep in mind that this was back in the day when everyone recited the Lord’s Prayer at school.)

Oh the lord is good to me,
And so I thank the lord,
For giving me,
The things I need,
The sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The lord is good to me,
Johnnyappleseed [clap] AMEN!

This song is forever burned into my memory.

And then there were all the nutty pranks. When I was older (at the Czech camp), one of our peers was a tough-talkin’ girl from the U.S. who – gasp – smoked. The boys thought it was a disgusting habit and took it upon themselves to teach her a lesson. One them took one of her cigarettes, emptied out some of the tobacco and then filled it back up again … but with some of his toenail clippings added to the mix.

She smoked it while we killed ourselves laughing.

All of this came back to me as we walked around the Camp Wabikon.

I think that summer camp played a part in the person I am today, and I think every child should have the opportunity to have their own summer camp experience at least once in their lives.

What do you think? Are you a camp person? And would you send your kids to summer camp?

We’ll probably be sending our girls next summer. I just hope that they don’t smoke someone’s toenails.

15 Responses to "Summer camp and a visit back in time"

1 | Ginger

August 14th, 2009 at 11:25 am


What an awesome place! I think they should make summer camps for grown ups!

2 | Judy

August 14th, 2009 at 12:23 pm


That sounds fabulous! I did some camps as a kid, many at our local university – very urban, but we had a cottage so never got sent to camps like this. Once, as a girl guide, we did outdoor camping.

I would definitely send my kids if they are interested when they are older. I think alot depends on the kids.

Ahhhh… Johnny Appleseed. My Dad often sung that if asked to say grace when I was growing up!

3 | Brie

August 14th, 2009 at 12:25 pm


I never went o camp as a kid but I was a camp counselor as a teen. I would love to send my kids to camp. Or go to a family camp.

4 | The Moffman

August 14th, 2009 at 2:45 pm


I never went to a camp as a kid and have always felt that I missed out on something. I sort of feel the same way about not having gone away to university.
I think I’d like to give my kids the opportunity to do both, if they want it and we can afford it.

5 | lacoop

August 14th, 2009 at 4:00 pm


This makes me so want to drop everything and drive to Temagami! I never did the away-camp as a kid (alas, not enough money), but I was a waiter at a resort in the Muskoka’s during university – that is kind of like camp for adults, but really it was just rich people drinking too much! But thanks for this piece Andrea…great shots of the classic Ontario summer.

6 | Tosca

August 14th, 2009 at 6:15 pm


I never did camp because my parents simply didn’t have the money. And, my kids probably won’t get to go either for the same reason. I do see how it would be a wonderful experience, but it’s too bad it has to cost what it does.

7 | mrsgryphon

August 14th, 2009 at 11:23 pm


My “summer camp” experiences were all with Girl Guides, and my best camp memories are of our nightly campfire sing-a-longs, hikes through the quiet woods, and sleeping in canvas tents with 6 or 8 other girls. Just this afternoon I looked up the Girl Guides website to see when my daughter can join (another 1.5 years and she can be a Spark!)

8 | Jen

August 15th, 2009 at 8:09 am


That brings back some great memories :-) I attended camp for four summers, and 20 years later can still remember it vividly – best times I had!

9 | karen at virtually there

August 15th, 2009 at 11:43 am


I spent many summers at camp (always the same one) as a kid and counselled there right through high school. It was in Muskoka on a lake… lots of swimming, sailing, canoeing, camping… all the traditional and very woodsy camping activities. I LOVED it and it did make me who I am today in large part. I will definitely be sending my children… perhaps even to the same camp as it is on the same lake as our cottage.

10 | Nadine C.

August 19th, 2009 at 12:22 am


Camp Wabikon really looks great, the photos are beautiful!
I used to always look forward to head out to camp as a child and later as a teenager( and counsellor) I absolutely loved every single thing about camp, from the very early (7am!!!) swim lessons in the lake and the archery class (I was terrible…) to the wonderful evenings roasting marshmellows around the campfire , singing songs and listening to our counsellors’ terrifying stories ! The 2 camps I usually went to were very traditional and rustic and located on a big lake. One was in the Laurentians next to Montreal and the other in Vermont . During our last camping trip at Canisbay Lake (Algonquin Park) last month, our 8 year old daughter Noa fell in love with a very similar camp that was located right across the road on Cache Lake. That camp is called Tanamakoon and that is where she really wants to go next year.

11 | Westchester County Day Camp

August 28th, 2009 at 12:58 pm


That sounds like a great time. You can really find a camp about whatever you want to. Summer camps are a great and fun way to learn something, whether its a new talent, a sport, a language, there has to be one camp out there that teaches you what you are actually interested in learning.

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December 1st, 2009 at 9:07 am


[…] backstory: Last summer we spent a few days with friends at their summer camp, the girls participated in camp activities and we all ate in the dining call with a couple hundred […]

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July 6th, 2010 at 6:20 am


[…] The house is very quiet. On Sunday we packed the girls off to an introductory week at summer camp. As I write this they are probably swimming, kayaking, or roasting something over a fire at a place I wrote about last summer.  […]

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July 12th, 2010 at 1:30 pm


[…] written about summer camp before, but the more people I spoke to and the longer I hung around I found myself becoming a bigger and […]

15 | gigi

July 26th, 2016 at 12:23 am


OMG WABIII!!!! everything there is amazing big day,tripping,the activities,the people. All great memories

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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