Camp Connections Run Deep - From it's origins in Algonquin Park, to Borealis today.
What’s something from your childhood that you feel a deep, positive emotional connection to?
That feeling you have right now, that’s how I feel about camp and what it does for the kids and young adults who have the opportunity to experience it.
When thinking about writing this blog entry originally, I had only been considering connecting the dots between the physical origins of camp in Ontario, more specifically Algonquin Park, and our origin story at Borealis. But as I ventured further down this path of thought, and as you’ll read below, many more similarities became very apparent.
What originally sparked the inspiration for this edition of the blog was a book I read in the summer of 2022, 📖 Summer Camp - Great Camps of Algonquin Park, by the glow of a flashlight while winding down at the end of camp days in my 10’x10’ wooden cabin. The wonder and joy I experienced while reading detailed accounts of each of the eight camps that resided in Algonquin Park is something I hope to pass a small dose of along to you here.
Logging Legacy 🌳🌲- Algonquin Park was originally a logging tract that was heavily foraged in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Shortly following its transition from logging activities to a Provincial Park, the first summer camp activities began in earnest on leased lands, situated on beautiful lakefront sites, many of which looked post-apocalyptic due to the sparseness of remaining flora. But that didn’t deter those pioneer Directors and their summer campers from creating incredible memories and establishing traditions that continue today.
As it turns out, the home for Borealis is leased land on a former logging tract that sits less than 100 kilometers from the main gates of Algonquin Park, thus we share much of the same beautiful topography. And while the flora on our lakefront site has already fully recovered from the logging activities that once took place there, the opportunity to welcome campers to an incredible site like this, where they’ll be the first to create amazing memories, friendships, and establish traditions that will continue long after their camping days have passed, is not in the least lost on us.
Teachers Take the Lead 💡 - Many of those who ventured into Algonquin Park as the Director’s of those maiden summer camp voyages had backgrounds as educators and/or coaches. Their passion for providing kids with transformative experiences led them to be pioneers of an experience unlike anything else kids had access to at that time.
Like those camp pioneers, I have a background in coaching that has led me to a greater appreciation for and desire to facilitate transformative experiences for kids. The major role that nature plays in my personal life, combined with the passion I have for helping kids experience joy and growth out of the experiences I facilitate for them, inspired my path to camp ownership and direction.
Program Platform 🎯 - Those original camp professionals created the foundation for what still stand today as core activities that every kid looks forward to at summer camp. Canoeing, swimming, archery, nature discovery, creative arts, and out-tripping are all staples at summer camp. But the one we love the most is campfires. We can only imagine how magical the first of these were with their sing-songs and skits, sitting lakeside under the starry night sky as the yellows, oranges and reds of the crackling fire danced across water as smooth as glass. What we don’t need to imagine though is the depth with which feelings of connection and belonging happened around those campfires, because that’s a given.
So, as an ode to the heritage of these activities at camp, it was imperative for me that they be included in our lineup of camp programming. And while we’ve added activities like paddle boarding, a slingshot range, mountain biking, and our hammock hangout by the lake, we will carry the tradition of these foundational camp activities forward with us because of the obvious positive impact they have on kids and their summer camp experiences.
Building From Scratch 🔨 - Those first Camp Directors had to boot strap everything, building their entire infrastructure from scratch in a time when building that far off the grid wasn’t anywhere near as easy as it is today. They called on friends, family and local community members to lend a hand, not only with the construction, but also to drum up enrollment for the adventures that lie ahead. And really, one of the greatest gifts camp has given us is the creation of community and the meaning behind the interactions that take place in creating, hosting and participating in an experience like this.
And just as those first Directors did, I’ve called on friends, family and local community members to establish a sense of community around the creation of this inspirational and empowering place for kids. The truth is, without the support of a greater community of people, camp would never exist, nor would it thrive. Every space we create and activity we partake in at Borealis is done so with great purpose, with consideration of the impact we have on the environment around us as a guiding principle. An approach I’m certain those camp pioneers considered very seriously when considering their interactions with nature as well.
Rail Was the Way 🚂 - When camps opened in Algonquin Park, the most common method of transport to those camps was on a line that ran directly into the heart of the park. From there, campers would depart by foot and/or canoe to travel to their final destination for the summer. What an incredible adventure! And while the train tracks are long gone, their legacy is not, as much of the rail line has been turned into roads and trails that are still used today to access areas of the park.
While our campers will never get to travel to camp via train, we can certainly imagine what that could have been like had a camp started here back when the train still rolled through just a few hundred meters south of our site. The method of travel for campers these days on that now converted rail line, known as the Hastings Heritage Trail, which weaves its way through the thousands of acres of private land that surround camp, is mountain bikes. And although those bikes won’t provide the captivating clickety-clack of a train rolling along the tracks, they will allow campers to stop and explore the route a lot more than being confined to a rail car.
What Does it All Mean? 🤔
One fact about camp that has been true since day one is that it creates incredible connections with nature and our fellow humans, much greater than can be achieved in most environments we’re exposed to in our lives.
At the core of it, the fundamental reason for camp still rings true to this day; creating indelible memories and friendships that can only be formed in an environment such as this. And it’s our intention to carry that forward for generations to come.
Founder & Director