ALL ROADS LEAD TO CAMP
Chapter I: Of Nature and Nurture
As a kid growing up in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, one of my favorite activities was taking a bike ride or walk from our nearby house, through Riverside Park. Many times this would include jumping from tie to tie as we crossed the wooden rail bridge on the King Street side of the park. I recall one bike ride where the river had swelled beyond its banks and flooded the roadway that followed its path through the park. My dad and I rode that path anyways, bringing together my sense of wonder, with definitive respect for the power and beauty of nature doing its thing, regardless of human interaction with it.
Flooded entrance to Riverside Park in Cambridge, the same one Jory biked through as a kid with his dad.
I spent the first nine years of my life in Cambridge, and one of the activities our family would partake in each summer were camping trips. We’d pack up the trailer with tent, hibachi, water jugs, fishing rods, and canoe and hit the road for a 2-3 night stay at a park somewhere in Ontario. Of the parks we visited, one caught our attention early on, and for very good reason. That park was Killbear Provincial Park, just north of Parry Sound. It was a true escape to nature, and between the multiple campgrounds within the park, a plethora of exposure to natures finest work. This park made such an impact on us in fact, that we returned there yearly throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. As we grew, my sister and I were given the opportunity to introduce our friends to this piece of heaven, including cliff diving from 10, 20 and 30 feet high into the beautiful, refreshing waters of Georgian Bay.
This park left such an indelible impact in fact, that my sister and I have both returned as adults, including a family trip with my soon to be brother-in-law added to the mix in 2005. I returned in 2012 to introduce my favorite campground to a group of friends, and my sister, that same to-be brother-in-law, plus my two nieces and nephew, included it in their multi-park visit during the summer of 2020, with Killbear reigning supreme as the top spot the kids wanted to return to in 2021.
Kids jump from the cliff's at Killbear Provincial Park, just as Jory, his sister and their friends did as kids.
It’s incredible how nature holds the power to have the same impact, across multiple generations, in a world that’s constantly changing around it.
In 1990, my family and I moved to a 10-acre property in the country that essentially put us on the campus of our own private campground. The house overlooked the Lower Maitland river as it traversed through Huron County. The previous owners had created a small waterfall and swimming hole at the foot of steps that led from the house to the riverside. On the other side of that river were acres upon acres of bush to explore. And oh, did I explore. I recall skipping across the large stones that made up the waterfall and getting lost in that wilderness for hours at a time. Looking back, I’m not even sure how, at 11 or 12 years old, I had the wherewithal to find my way back after wandering and playing for so long? My guess is that it likely came from the independence I gained travelling to racetracks across North America with my dad as he chased his professional auto racing dreams. That’s a story for another time.
Wonderful memories abound from my eight years on that property, including post-season hockey parties, where log rolling and canoe rallies were integral parts of each event. I camped out and fished on the banks of that river, built forts out of fallen timber throughout those woods, and loved adventuring through natures playground no matter the season.
It’s obvious to me now, as an adult who has rediscovered the beauty, wonder and calm that nature provides, and the absolute joy that it brings me to be amongst it, that these childhood experiences planted seeds that would never stop growing, even if the human they were growing inside of didn’t tend to them on a consistent basis.
Let’s diverge from nature a little at this point shall we, and explore the other area of my life that has guided me to a place of knowing that ownership and direction of an overnight wilderness summer camp for kids is where I believe I can have the most positive impact on this world.
As a 19-year-old, playing my last season of competitive ice hockey, I felt compelled to start a coaching career of my own. That season I took on the head coaching duties of the Tier II U13 boys’ team in my local minor hockey association. I started that season with no coaching experience and a group of players that included several who would be playing hockey for the first time, as well as one who had never skated before. I believe I was well prepared to provide guidance and support to these kids, as someone who had started my own hockey career at the age of 13.
We struggled out of the gate and were getting beaten consistently by double digit differentials. But we stayed the course, those new players started to learn the game and improve, and I was understanding more about how to motivate and teach, growing as a coach. Together, we were growing as a team. Come seasons end, while we weren’t yet a winning team, we had narrowed the goal differentials in our losses to one or two goals, against the league’s toughest opponents. And despite what many may think about losing teams, we were having a great time, learning a ton, and bonding as well as any team I’ve been part of through our combined growth as a group.
I dabbled in coaching for several years following that, essentially serving as a door-opener for games and on-ice helper during practices, until I decided to dip my toe into the goalie coaching realm, while working with the U18 AAA Jr Knights program in London, Ontario. I managed to scratch up contracts with four teams for the 2011-12 season and received positive reviews from all of them at seasons end.
Despite this early success, the faulty belief system that I had in place at the time would ultimately prevent me from ascending any higher in the London coaching ranks.
Fast forward to 2015 and the biggest decision of my life to that point, leaving my position as a restaurant manager behind to commit full-time to chasing a coaching career. Of course, I was taking that troublesome belief system with me on this new venture and it would ultimately come to roost again, nearly costing me, not only the investment I had made in my coaching career, but my life.
That first season, 2015-16, as an Assistant and Goaltending Coach with the University of Waterloo Women’s Hockey program, was both bliss and torment. Here I was, I had finally overcome those doubts that prevented me from taking this step for so many years, and yet I was about to be saddled with the greatest challenge of my life, one I never could have anticipated.
Jory (top left) behind the bench as an Assistant Coach with the University of Waterloo Warriors - 2015
Come the end of that first season, having already endured severe anxiety for months, I was moving quickly toward serious depression, if I wasn’t already experiencing that in some form. I resigned from the team, moved back to my parent’s place with my tail between my legs, completely defeated, and with the worst of my mental health battle still to come. That summer and fall I faced relentless suicidal ideations as part of my constantly depressed state, a battle that would rage for several years as I worked to discover, break down and rebuild my beliefs and values, many of which I would come to learn had been planted right alongside that love for nature that I had gained as a child.
So, you may be asking yourself at this point, just how is this related to wanting to own and direct a summer camp, and the answer to that is quite simple.
During the darkest days of my battle with mental health, I found great solace in nature. It was in fact the rediscovery of my love for and connection to nature at this point in my life that provided incredible comfort and healing.
As I navigated my way to a healthier mind, I was given the opportunity to reprise my role at the University of Waterloo in 2017, and as they often say, the rest is history.
Now four hockey seasons removed from being very graciously given that second chance, one I’ll forever be grateful for, I continue as the UW Women’s team Goalie Coach, and work with roughly 50 different goaltenders through team and private sessions each season as part of my coaching business.
A career I once viewed very differently and thought of as unattainable, and for a time approached with unhealthy views related to gaining a big payday and nurturing an ego that wanted to be recognized when I walked into the rink, has morphed into something completely different. As it turns out, it’s the daily interactions that I get to have with a diverse, challenging, entertaining, and flat-out awesome group of kids and young adults, that make my ‘job’ an absolute pleasure.
Add to this story a healthy dose of camp management applicable experiences, including 18 years as a sales, marketing, public relations, hospitality and consumer event planner in the motorsports community, as well as three summers spent as a counselor at an international ESL camp, and we reach the point in my journey where all of the roads I’ve had the opportunity to travel down converge on one and other to form a single, definitive path.
With all of this incredible life experience fueling me, it’s become apparent that my mission going forward is to cultivate an environment where the wonderous power that nature can provide to individual and group development, is combined with my passion for more meaningful interactions with kids and young adults, under circumstances that significantly relax the constraints of time, money and performance expectation that are often attached to athletic development.
So here’s to the next chapter! One that I sincerely hope to have you share in.
Thanks for taking the time 😊