Ironically, I’m not able to do a standard post about Canada this week because I am away from home, in Canada. Specifically, I am in a part of Canada that has very little internet access, and where, in fact, use of the internet is regulated and discouraged. That’s because I’m at a kids’ summer camp, where we are supposed to be focused on canoeing, swimming, crafts, and nature. So I’ll instead just tell you a little of the history of this place, and hope that I can publish it to the web using one of the single intermittent bars of cell service available to me.
Camp Big Canoe was founded in 1968, and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. I spent 16 consecutive summers here, starting as a very young “PeeWee” camper and concluding as Head Waterfront. I coveted that job because it finally meant that no one else could make me go in the water if I didn’t want to, and usually, I didn’t.
As always, I’m fascinated by how time passes. When I first came here in (I think) 1989, it felt like the camp had been here forever. But it was just barely 20 years old, and 1998 is uncomfortably closer to 1968 than to today. My teen coworkers this week (I’m teaching canoeing, but need to be minded by teen lifeguards, because the only certified lifeguards you can ever find are teens) are sure to remind me that they were not even born when I was first on staff, something I also remember marvelling at when former staff would come to visit us.
Because all Big Canoe campers go on at least one out-trip, I would often encounter people from other camps while paddling through various provincial parks, and they would always laugh at what they thought was our camp’s funny name, and make some kind of joke about how our canoes were, in fact, regular size.
Such encounters were teaching opportunities, because Camp Big Canoe is in fact named after the Big Canoe family from Georgina Island. The predecessor of Camp Big Canoe (or CBC, as it is confusingly abbreviated) had been located on Georgina Island, which is an Ojibwa/Chippewa reserve, and a relationship had developed between the Big Canoes and the camp.
The camp’s account of its history says that Chief Lorenzo Big Canoe lit the first campfire, and that his children Wanda and Albert returned 25 years later to again light a fire and renew the relationship. When I was staff in 2001 (or maybe 2002?) one of my campers was also a member of the Big Canoe family.
Children’s summer camps are often egregious examples of the appropriation of Indigenous cultures. They are situated on unceded Indigenous land, make use of racist caricatures as logos and craft activities, and give themselves names from Indigenous languages or just make up names that “sound native.” (CBC’s predecessor camp was called “Ahshunyoong,” a word that no one has bothered to define or explain in any camp materials I’ve found, and which does not exist online, in that spelling, outside of the context of that camp).
I don’t mean to whitewash this camp’s history (again, a previous incarnation was literally located on land reserved for the Chippewa nation), and I’m certainly not an impartial observer, having spent so many foundational years here. But I’m glad that this camp at least has an identifiable relationship with the Indigenous family it is named after, and that the staff manual, in the context of explaining this history, includes a prohibition against “copying” or “mimicking” the traditions or dress of Indigenous peoples, calling them “ancient” and “sacred.”
I’ll remain in Muskoka until next weekend, but will try to find some more time and internet between now and then for the next post. When I’m not trying to blog, it’s a blessing that reliable mobile service still hasn’t come to Camp Big Canoe, making it seem remarkably unchanged by the outside world and the passage of time. As soon as I put my devices away, it could almost be 1989 again.