Friday, August 3, 2012

There is magic in kids' camps

This time of year - the mid-way point of the two-month summer school break - I almost always find myself reminiscing about summers past, and in particular, going to camp as a kid.

You may be wondering, well, fine - but what does that have to do with travel?

In my case, plenty. 

In fact, it would not be too big a stretch to say going to camp as a kid is one of the key factors that propelled me into a career of travel writing.

Bear in mind, much of the travel I write about involves getting out-of-doors, into nature, seeking adventure - and often doing so by canoe or kayak or occasionally, whitewater raft. There is also often a conservation angle or aspect to it. There is good reason for that...

It really all does go back to that first summer at Camp Richildaca in southern Ontario, where I learned to paddle a canoe on a small pond on the day camp's property.

Richildaca Canoe Pond (Photo by Alexandra Heilbron)
Of such things, careers are made...

I also learned the sport of archery, rode my first horse, went on my first nature hike, cooked my first meal over an open fire and slept in a tent for the first time at Richildaca.

Oh, yeah - I learned to swim there, too - kind of an important skill to develop if you plan on spending a lot of time paddling on lakes, rivers and oceans around the world.

Yes, it would be not to big a stretch to say the two-week periods I spent there over three successive summers made a big impact on who and what I became as an adult. Ditto, the successive two camp periods I spent at the Haliburton Scout Reserve.

Without the love of the outdoors, that desire to hike and paddle and seek adventure in the wilderness, I just might be another old sports writer (I did it for 15 years before turning to travel writing), or, worse still - (shudder!) a history teacher.

Chow time! at Haliburton Scout Reserve
Nothing wrong with history teachers, by the way - I'd probably make a good one - but my interest in elementary school North American colonial history (and its associated adventure) combined with my love of the outdoors really did send me down a path that involved a fairly l-o-n-g detour into the University of New Brunswick's Bachelor of Science Forestry program, the eventual earning of a business degree - and a career in radio and print sports journalism for 15 years. 

My move into journalism really is the result of some encouragement from a first-year friend at UNB, Dan Arsenault, someone I'm still friends with today. He coaxed me into joining CHSR, the campus radio station. I did; eventually I also began writing for the Brunswickan, UNB's student newspaper.

Even going to UNB, the launching pad for my journalism career, was actually another case of Richildaca synchronicity: when I worked as a junior forest ranger in Gogama, Ontario during the summer of 1973, the head foreman recommended UNB as a good place to go for forestry if I didn't want to stay in Ontario.

Paddling on Azure Lake, as a junior forest ranger
The entire time I worked as a sports journalist, I still loved camping, canoeing, getting out-of-doors. Eventually, my sense of adventure took me paddling in Belize (where I encountered my first wild parrots!), and it was not long after that I started down the path of becoming a travel writer.

I don't know that any of that would have gone quite that way if I hadn't gone to Camp Richildaca when I was eight years old, and picked up a canoe paddle for the very first time.

I had no clue then that I was essentially beginning to paddle down a path that would make me one of those fortunate souls who gets to "work" by wandering the world in search of stories to write and photos to take. My inclinations and career have taken me to Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Malaysia, Thailand, Hawaii, the Canary Islands...

Zipping down Thailand's River Kwai in a canoe

Richildaca is gone now, the original owners passed away. New ownership and management have developed a new camp on the same site, the Kettleby Valley Camp, and it continues to offer outdoor experiences for children and young teens, helping them develop new skills and interests, helping them make new memories.

So if you're thinking about sending your kids to camp, and you're not quite sure whether to do it or not, why not just let the kids decide? Let them try it, at least for one summer. If they don't like it, they won't want a repeat.

Even if it does not lead to a career, chances are, they'll build some pretty good memories.

And, really there's no telling where that experience may lead them in life...

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