Camp Stories, Page 1 - YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region

Camp Stories, Page 1


updated October 3, 2014.

by Peter Haney

"Scared Whitless"

It was pre-camp, May 1982. That's the year Wabanaki had a visit from its second most infamous camper - Ralph Whitfield Morris (Google him - he's for real).

RWM killed his wife with a butcher knife in a bowling alley in Port Colborne and skipped town one step ahead of the law. They lost him for a while but picked up his trail again after he broke into some cottages on Lake Vernon and stole some food, some firearms and a butcher knife. The OPP tracked him to Wab.

This was a full out manhunt, with two S.W.A.T. trucks, a helicopter, a number of German Sheppards and a whole bunch of guys in army fatigues wearing headsets and armed with sub-machine guns.

It was all very exciting for the camp staff. To keep track of us they put the women in Onawaw and the guys in the infirmary (Medicine Hat). I can't recall everyone that was there but I do remember Kip Spidell and Thom Ernst. Thom was always looking for an opportunity for a good "scare" and these conditions were perfect.

The infirmary has been redone since then, but at the time you entered through a front room which gave access to the rooms further back. Right beside the front entrance there was a homemade closet with a curtain door (that's relevant to the story).
We were sitting in one of the back rooms, bored, when Thom suggested that he could pop down to his cabin, the Bayveiw, and get something to help pass the time. He got up and left. You could hear the screen door slam.

I wish I could say I was in on it but I wasn't. Somehow, Thom knew we would follow. I'm the guy who suggested we couldn't let him go alone. We all agreed and Kip lead the way out through the front room.

Thom did not make a sound. When Kip got to the front door Thom just reached out from the closet with an arm on either side of the curtain door, and grabbed Kip around the neck in a two handed death grip. Kip let out a Banshee scream and flung himself back through the room. He was about 4 feet off the ground and flying like Superman. After Kip crash landed the only noise was Thom's hysterical laughter.

I'll never forget that. It was brilliant.

by Leigh Garvey

I started at Camp Tinawata on Lake Paradise at age 10, then switched to Belwood when they started taking girls as my brothers loved it so much. I spent many happy years there as a camper, then JL, then CIT & counsellor, developing leadership skills that have helped me through the rest of my life. I had yearned to go to Wab as well; there were so many stories of its beauty, and I finally made it there as staff in 1970. Unfortunately, the fire happened in our second week, but what happened after that has stayed with me. I was on waterfront when I heard the bell begin to ring. Initially I couldn't figure out why the lunch bell was ringing early, then realized it was the alarm. I got the swimmers out of the water, then rushed to the dockside where the waterfront staff (girls) picked up the war canoes (2 girls per giant canoe!) and paddles, and got everyone evacuated to a safe spot across the bay. In just 11 minutes everyone had assembled around the flagpole in cabins, were accounted for and transported to safety! There we watched the main buildings burn to the ground and propane tanks explode. Later we returned to the site when it was safe, and arrangements were made for the campers to go home the next day. I overheard the camp director speaking to other maintenance staff (boys) saying that after the campers had gone, he would make arrangements for the female staff to go home as well, while the male staff would clean up. No way I was going home after waiting so long to get there! So while some of the staff transported the campers to the mainland and sent them on their way, the remaining girl staff cleaned up the fire site. We lifted the iron stoves, metal, ceiling beams etc and organized them into piles. When the director got back he was amazed at what we had accomplished on our own, so agreed to let us stay. We then finished the clean up and moved camp across the island to a temporary camp for the rest of the summer. We had an amazing time working together, bonding, proving what we could do. It remains a powerful memory for me.

by Gary Tomlinson

You don't usually know it at the time, but your experiences at camp teach you lessons that sometime last for a lifetime. (I'm not actually talking about the lessons like what happens when you stick a spoon in an energised light socket, or why it's a good idea to hold on tight to the bucket if you are dousing someone with water from the roof of the Staff Inn, or why you should stay away from electric fences when you are doing your business in a field.)

My particular story runs like this:

In 1981, and for reasons best understood by the Y Camping Department, I was Precamp Director at Camp Belwood. In those years, Precamp started in the last couple of days of April or the first week in May, and extended up to Staff Camp in the last week of June. We never had a huge precamp staff at any of the camps, and that year, Belwood's was initially just the 4 of us - Greg Madill, Lise Moule, Lani Kerbl and myself - and happily an excellent cook, Ron Sharon was hired at the end of May that year (to our general rejoicing).

Some summer staff would come up and help out on weekends and assist with the seemingly monumentally endless task of getting the camp open and operational for the pre camp school groups and the summer camping sessions. Chiefly that year, Mark Sekulin - who also for reasons best understood by the Y Camping Department - was the summer Assistant Director, our long suffering Camp Director Pam LeBlanc, and Jamie Butterworth, one of the summer Waterfront Staff. (Come to think if it ,I also managed to finagle the 1979 Assistant Director, Lynn Ainsworth to come up and help for a weekend to get the sailboats ready too, but I digress.) Happily, various "Y" groups (chiefly the Y'smen, and the Fedaykin HiY...more about these guys later), would also come up to camp on a couple of weekends to do specific projects, like putting in docks, repairing roofs, digging utility trenches, general dirty work, etc.).

Due to the precarious state of camp maintenance, funding, and the severity of the proceeding winters, in those years there was no shortage of work to be done in the time before the school groups and summer campers got there. This particular year, the proceeding winter had taken a heavy toll on the camp, and on top of that, we had decided to "repurpose" several of the cabins. As such, we were still a long way behind where we wanted to be when the "Fedaykin Weekend" rolled around, and we decided to get "all hands on deck" and get caught up with their help. There were a lot of projects to be done, along with the traditional primary tasks of the group, which was to put in the docks (always a cold and wet job), and to do a bulk grounds cleaning and de-cluttering. It was also evident that a lot of what was going to get done was going to happen with minimal supervision, and we were going to have to make the best of it.

This particular year, I had discovered a truly monumental quantity of garbage, construction and demolition waste left in and around the three "garbage sheds" that then existed behind (east of) the dining hall. For some reason that I can't immediately remember, we were not yet contracting for a dumpster and waste hauler to deal with the garbage we were generating. (I should say at this juncture that, given the state of the rest of the camp at that time, the two wooden and one aluminum garbage sheds were probably the best engineered and maintained structures on the property.) Given that the garbage had sat there all winter, the bags had a chance to degrade and fall apart (a huge number of mice and chipmunks had also moved into the sheds and into the garbage) making the prospect of humping all the stuff into the camp van and moving it down the road to the West Garafraxa Landfill was truly daunting. As such, cleaning out the garbage sheds was a task assigned to the Fedaykin group. My specific instructions to the group had been: "take the garbage out of the shed and burn it." I then departed for Fergus, (if memory serves, along with Greg Madill) to pick something up we had discovered we needed from one of the hardware stores. Upon our return (30 or 40 minutes later?) we spied a huge pillar of smoke coming from the area of the garbage sheds and noticed a neat pile of garbage bags and construction waste piled to one side and a huge bonfire consisting of the remains of the two wooden garbage sheds. The aluminum garbage shed had been spared the flames as they had not quite figured out how to get it lit up at that point.

After some lively discussion, the garbage also found its way onto the bonfire.

Later in the evening, another fairly animated discussion was entered into between myself and several members of the Fedaykin group (one of which who later became my wife) as to the grammatical implications of my instructions. To this day I still use the story of the burnt out garbage sheds as an example of why it is important to provide clear instructions and to ensure that they are understood...

The second part of the discussion (and the first telling of this story), occurred about two months later when Ron Storms ("Stormy"), buttonholed me on one of his visits to the camp to play Santa ("Santa Stormy"), on the 25th of July - you remember, Christmas in July - and asked me what happened to the new garbage sheds he had finished building the previous summer. Rather than prevaricate, I told him the story and he just about fell down laughing and responded, "Well I guess I'm putting a lump of coal in their stockings for that," then lit up another Beaumont and said, "Guess you know now to make sure that your instructions are understood." and walked away. Stormy never said anything more about it.

I, on the other hand, have used this story to good effect for the last 33 years...

by Kent Gillespie

I attended Wabanaki on Beausoleil Island for several years in the 1960's. I happen to have some digitized old 8 mm film that my father took in 1961 &1962 when my brother and I and our neighbours, the Davis' went to camp. I put together a short video which I have posted to Youtube. The quality is not up to today's standards but you can see the old camp and some of the activities. The video has footage of us arriving at camp and visitor days. There may be some alumni who remember that time at Wabanaki. Here is the link: or search Youtube for Wabanaki 1961 & 1962. 

by Scott Guest

Wab burned down in August of 1970, London Y Camp Queen Elizabeth helped out with the firefighting and hosting Wab until they could get the campers back home. Wab was located in Frying Pan bay on Beausoleil Island (national park). At that time there was a debate about residential camps located on park land and Wab decided to not to rebuild on the park lands and moved to its current location. I was was 12 at the the time and had been up July so the fire had happened when I wasn't at the camp. The signs of the fire remained at the site for at least another 5 or 6 years and became a favourite spot for Queen E campers to hike to for a day trip. If memory serves me it would be about a 90 min hike. The site was a favourite because of the excellent swimming and the fireplace and chimney that remained for a number of years. When I was on staff I took a group there and packed a wrench in the food pack because the hydro poles had been left on the ground and I thought the insulator would make a nice souvenir ( paper weight). At a recent CQE reunion I met Lou Breithaupt from Wab who I told the story and he asked if Wab could have the memento for there reunion - I said if I could find it it would be my pleasure - enjoy your reunion.

by Dick Capling

In the mid 1940's, I persuaded my parents to send me to KiWaY. First thing we did on arrival was to meet our counsellor (Stan Martin) who took us to an adjacent farm to stuff our straw ticks.

Joe Connell was our camp director, a great teller of scary stories, and an enthusiastic song leader. Before the days of "Puff the Magic Dragon," many of our camp songs were sanitized versions of army songs, for example "My Gal's a Corker, she's a New Yorker."

A couple years later I moved to Wabanaki on Beausolail Island, and my first out-trip. In the early 50's I returned to KiWaY as a counsellor, and our cabin built a campsite at the end of a secret path through the swamp.

During afternoon rest, Gary Thaler and John Fleming broadcast to the whole camp from the administration building. They'd play bits of music and carry on a side-splitting improv comedy routine just like the Goon Show, a popular British production.

Later in the 50's I worked full-time at the Y which included directing KiWaY, and the YMCA Day Camp; I dated Carole Foster who worked at the YWCA camp Tekawitha and directed the YWCA Day Camp. When we married in 1958, we went together to KiWaY and shortly after, opened the new Camp Belwood outside of Fergus. For a few years I directed both camps. Before long, it was not just my wife and I at camp; we were joined by our three daughters, Ann, Susy and Jenny.

At Belwood, we named the cabins after the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, and our big night was "Indian Night" on the flats. (A very inappropriate appropriation of First Nations culture!) We began a "Ranger Program" for senior campers; they hiked the new Bruce trail on the Bruce Peninsula. Jack Blatchford was their counsellor and they had special quarters in a Bell tent set up off the lane coming into camp. Ron Stormes our YMCA Physical Director built a jig in the YMCA basement and began to make yellow plywood prams for our Belwood sailing program. We stayed at Belwood and KiWaY until 1965 when I left KW to work for the Hamilton YMCA.

Since then our three daughters Ann, Susan, and Jenny, have also been KW Y campers at all three camps. Our middle daughter Susy is said to have her name carved somewhere at Belwood. Back then, "streaking" the dining hall was a popular activity (before the camp went co-ed.). Our grand-daughters Ally and Jenny McElwain have also been KW YMCA campers at Belwood, Wab, and KiWaY.

One of the duties of the Camp Director, was to order the food for the camp. I remember that KiWaY's 110 souls, required 55 pounds of boned and rolled chuck for a beef dinner! I remember pies disappearing from the kitchen overnight. I remember the night a few non-camper rowdies decided to drink and party at Pioneer Cove and how quickly they made their exit when Jim Weber and a few of the larger staff members emerged from the bush to explain to them that they were on private property.

I'm glad my old friend Bob Liddy gave you my email address. He is a great influence on the character and culture of KW YMCA camping, along with so many other leaders.

In my experience with other camps, I've learned that KiWaY, Belwood and Wabanki are not like all the rest. And that is because of the values and attitudes that were fostered in our KW camps by camp leaders like Bob Liddy, Walter Barnes, and Don Groff.

by Peter Mansell

One Pre-camp, I was sent to dig a new outhouse (KYBO) hole near Pioneer Cove. This is a challenge on a giant granite rock formation.... But I found a spot that was far enough away from the cabins to be 'decent'. Three feet down, I struck something unusual. I called over a few guys to confirm it. Yes, it was a giant sheet of old cardboard. At that moment, it gave way, and I realized why the digging was so easy. I had re-opened a KYBO from the 1930's. Down I went, suddenly, into about 3 more feet of "soup". There was nothing to do but head for waterfront. Where I was promptly turned away. No one came near me. I had to find a cove - two coves over from Pioneer cove to wash off the goo from an early Wabanaki era. You can imagine the jokes that night at staff campfire! This was not the kind of camp history I was interested in uncovering.

Here's (another) story to fire your imagination: One visitors' Sunday, when Wab was on Beausoliel Island, the boat taxis filled the camp with parents, grandparents etc. Then a freak rainstorm came over the area and everyone jammed into the Hall. Phil Brown and I and a few others did about 4 hours of every song we ever knew - playing guitars and banjos until our fingers almost bled. It kept the whole camp and all the visitors amused and entertained until the first boat taxis arrived to take folks home.

Longest set we ever played - seemed like 10 hours. Some of the verses of Kumbaya got to "Someone's itchy/scratchy, Lord". and someone's soaking wet, Lord." Ironically, we were supposed to be in charge of "Campfire" that night

by Jane Britton

We laughed when Jane shared the following "song" which was whispered/screamed to the tune of the Jaybird Song, and was a testament to Camp Director Don Groff's staff supervision technique!

"Down the road not so very far off

There lived a man by the name of Groff

He walked so far and he walked so soft

That he walked the soles of his shoes right off!"

...and Kit Kennard adds:

About Jane Britton's song about Don Groff's soft soles ...some context needed - legend has it, that to get the mood of the camp, Don would do a very quiet camp survey in that time between lights out (usually had just one kerosene lamp anyway for the entire cabin) and sleep, walking to our cabins (some would say sneeking)just listening to the conversations we had as campers. Summer of 1966, a VERY worn copy of Fanny Hill was distributed between us ... I expect our pre-sleep conversation was very entertaining... but it probably also included Chris Brown doing scales on his banjo as well.

by Phil Brown

Cabin 6 burnt down when a camper threw his lit cigarette under the mattress one afternoon. So much for foam rubber mattresses. Next year, it was the rec hall and dining hall that went up. A sad, sad day. Between the dining hall and staff inn there were three concrete silos holding varying stages of gray water from the dining hall. Ugh. To the right of the boat house there was a small shed housing the water treatment works. Heavy on chlorine. To the right of that was the incinerator, or Dolmage's Inferno, once called.

Cabins A&B housed the Junior Leaders normally, though in '68 we were housed in Cabin 4. The Craft shop was the original Cabin 1, according to Pan Politae, the boys service club that built it, and A, B, 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6. Pan Politae was active from the 30's into the 50's.

Cabins 4, 7, 8 and the Infirmary were later arrivals, circa 1959. Cabin 8 was the highest elevation, and it was fitting that the Wab Saff Alumni got together a decade ago, and installed a plaque up behind Cabin 8 commemorating the event.

The naming (from numbers) of the cabins occurred in 1968. The naming was done to soothe those campers who didn't graduate numerically every year. To preserve their peace of mind, the cabins were re-named so that a returning child, or their parents, didn't feel that they'd flunked when they were not advanced to a higher number. I can't be sure, but I suspect that many of our leaders today follow the same protocols to avoid rocking the boat!

Last time I was on the site was around 1980, and by then, the paths worn bare by thousands of kids' feet were grown over and shrouded by brush and young trees. The playing field to the right of Cabins 2 & 5 was completely reforested. Except for some traces of white cabin numbers painted around the flagpole, there was no evidence of the thriving village that once existed on this point. Moral of the story: Mother Nature always has the last word.

by Alan Miloff

I was in the Orphanage in Waterloo from 1945 - 1952 and I was sent to Ki-Wa-Y, I believe, from 1947 to 1952, where I was in the Honor Cabin 4 years in a row. It was the highlight of each and every year I went. The Camp Director at that time was Walter (Barney) Barnes, who would tell a scary story about shrunken heads each year, and I only wish I could remember the stories. This was my favourite time of the year and did more for me than anyone could appreciate.

It would have been around 1951 when it was decided that there would be a run around Paradise Lake. The race was organized in such a way as to give the youngest camper a bit of a handicap which was done thistly: the cabin with the youngest campers was to get a head start and the rest would follow at 5 minute intervals. As I was never much of a runner I didn't like this activity very much but everyone had to participate and was seen off at the starting point by leaders who would ensure everyone left, and at the finishing point that everyone arrived back. I left with the rest of my cabin but was walking, as one other individual was doing the same. Soon we were passed by everyone and we got to a point on the lake where the private cottages started and noticed a guy getting ready to leave on a boat with a small outboard motor. We went up to the cottager and asked for a ride across the lake telling him of our predicament. I suppose being a man with a sense of humour decided to help us out. The man took us to a point near the finish lined but once where we hopped we wouldn't be seen getting out of the boat. That night Walter [Barney] Barnes made the announcement that our cabin had come in 2nd with a little help.

by Jim Robertson

As JLs (Junior Leaders. now called LlTs) in July 1971 (the first summer of the New Wab on Lake Vernon) we paddled the two War Canoes through Falry and Peninsula Lakes to Lake of' Bays for canoe trip. Yes, we portaged the beasts from Peninsula Lake down North Portage Road 10 Lake of Bays, and then continued south to Baysville. Odd to imagine today given the number o f cottages and boats, but it was considered appropriate at the time so we could check out some of the lakes in the vicinity. Based on our recommendation, I don't think any future groups EVER look the War Canoes on a trip with a portage again! I remember though that when the JL Trainer that year, Dan Moon tried to get us to do laps when on the dock in Baysvllle, we all rebelled.

by Skip Lumley

One of my favourite memories is of an epic paint fight with Bob Dickey, around the flagpole beside the dining room at Wabanaki on Beausoleil Island. This would have been about 1960, when both of us were on staff and full of energy and mischief (particularly Bob).

It was just after rest hour following lunch on a beautiful bright day. We had removed the flag and lowered the pole to freshen its look at Don Groff's request. Dressed in our shorts and moccasins, we were using big 4" brushes and each had his own can of white paint.

As we passed each other, working from opposite ends, one (of course I don't recall who started) daubed a bit of paint on the other. A daub aimed in the opposite direction followed immediately. Within minutes, we were slashing paint from our brushes on each other, and we finished by throwing what remained in the cans in each other's general direction.

When we came to our senses, we were surrounded by campers and other staff members (standing at a safe distance). Some were cheering us on and others were dumbfounded by the sight.

We spent two hours standing in the water at the back dock scrubbing the paint off. We had paint on our teeth!!

For several years, the rocks around the flagpole were a daily reminder of how easily wars can start and escalate. I know that lesson has been useful many times in my life.

by Dave Dunford

I Spent 7 years at Wab on Beausoleil -from camper, to JL, CIT and finally on to waterfront staff. GREAT memories and tons of friends.

Late 50's to early 60s - Don Groff was camp director and Ron 'Stormy' Storms head up up Waterfont and Activities. Lots of super out- trips, once taking a group all the way up the Moon River to our cottage on Lake Rosseau - probably the only out-trip that ever included waterskiing :-)

Memories of Flatrock cigars! Missing the camp boat at midnight in Honey Harbour and having to strip down, swim to Beausoleil across the narrows and then a 5 hour hike across the island in the dark looking out for rattlesnakes -. Got into our bunks 1 hour before the morning bell!

p.s. - Flatrock Cigars were invented on an out-trip up the Moon River to Blueberry Point - thought we'd invent our own cigars to smoke in the canoes (older guys - Pioneer Section) - toilet paper, pines needles and some leaves that looked about right - coughed for a week after that! Polished that day off by pitching tent in the pouring rain in the middle of a poison ivy patch - anything to get to see the Camp Nurse - Barb Last ... every boy in camp over the age of 8 had a crush on her:-)

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