Campfires, canoes, crafts and Christ

Published June 1, 2006

Canadians, accustomed to long winters, eagerly embrace summer in the great outdoors by a lake, but warm-weather camping acquires another dimension when there is a chapel by the shore. Although some diocesan summer camps are in financial difficulties and several have closed, about two-thirds of the 30 Canadian Anglican dioceses own and operate active summer camps. A few offer camping programs at facilities owned by others.

Anglican camps are located in the usual settings of forest, water and fresh air and include a wide range of activities, including swimming, crafts, canoeing, campfires, drama skits and horseback riding. They are usually open to all denominations and include worship – sometimes outdoors – and emphasize “drawing people to God through Jesus Christ and promoting an appreciation of nature as God’s creation and gift to us,” as the brochure for Saskatchewan’s Camp Okema says.

Although Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara – who loves and supports his diocesan camp – once said his personal idea of roughing it was a hotel room with the window open, the combination of kids and sun sparks passionate enthusiasm in many diocesan leaders.

Canon Bain Peever in the diocese of Algoma, which stretches along the north shore of Lake Superior, recently completed a campaign that raised $384,000 for Camp Manitou, one of the three run by the diocese. Though nominally retired, Mr. Peever is deeply committed to camping as a Christian ministry.

“I think we are able to touch the lives of young people and young adults more efficiently and more dramatically than any other kind of ministry. It’s God’s cathedral. It’s a relaxing atmosphere where people tend to be more open to learning. We work and celebrate life with one another and give thanks to God for all our blessings in a tranquil scenario,” he said.

Peter Irish, a layman in the diocese of Fredericton, which includes the entire province of New Brunswick, cares so much about Camp Medley and Camp Brookwood that he recently resigned as a national church officer to devote time to a $1-million fundraising campaign.

“It has to do with the ministry and the growth that results in the people who have gone to camp. We get kids going to camp for a year and then they can’t wait to come back the next year and then they can’t wait to be a counselor, and then a staff member,” he said in an interview.

[pullquote]The leadership opportunities camping provides for young people have produced church leaders in adulthood, he added. “Many have come up through camping. Rev. Chris Brittain, for instance, is now a teacher at Atlantic School of Theology. Karen Crowe, who’s in engineering at the University of New Brunswick, is involved in a puppeteer program at (Christ Church) cathedral,” he said.

Mr. Irish, who has been involved with the church on the local, diocesan and national levels, has been on the Camp Medley board for 20 years. “Doing things for the camp and the kids gives me the most pleasure. I love to see kids happy and enjoying life and see how that gets played out in their lives. Camp is a safe place to be, a place where they are loved and taught about God and where God loves them. Today, a lot of kids aren’t getting Christian learning at home and not at school. At camp, they can learn about God in a relaxing, non-threatening environment,” he said.
Camps in largely urban dioceses often offer relief from the streets.

“Camp is another way of being church,” said Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones, suffragan (assistant) bishop of the diocese of Toronto. “We have an outdoor chapel at Camp Couchiching. It’s a ministry for urban kids to get away from the city,” he said.
Bishop George Bruce’s diocese of Ontario (which covers the southeastern portion of the province and is based in Kingston) has a vigorous program at Camp Hyanto, including music, drama and camps for children with disabilities. “It’s an incredibly important ministry. We have kids who have been received by Children’s Aid. It’s the first time some of these kids have heard the name of Jesus except as a swear word,” he said.

Rev. Jennifer Pridmore’s support is one factor driving the programs at Camp Hyanto. The co-ordinator of children and youth ministries at the diocese said she is “totally dedicated to children and youth ministries in general and camping is very effective. They get away from the TV, family stress, annoying siblings, the bully down the block.” Electronic gadgets are banned at Hyanto. Compared with flash entertainment, she said, “We can’t compete with MTV. What we have is the power of a loving community. Kids see their counselors, who are other young people, modeling problem solving. They see that prayer is goofing around the campfire and singing ‘Jesus loves me.'”

Ms. Pridmore is also compiling a comprehensive list of Anglican camps and would like to see camps properly promoted on diocesan Web sites and possibly co-operate on advertising in Anglican publications.

The enthusiasm of Mr. Peever, Ms. Pridmore and Mr. Irish is reflected in many dioceses. In the diocese of Brandon, covering the western third of Manitoba, Bishop Jim Njegovan said Anglican Memorial Camp, has come through a recent struggle. “It was financially in the black last year for the first time in a while. But we see it as a ministry rather than something that has to make money. I’ve really enjoyed it and would love to see it prosper because of its ministry to youth. Kids at risk have found real purpose by being involved with the camp,” he said.


Anglican summer camps in Canada

Diocese Camp Status
Algoma Three camps Active
Arctic None
Athabasca Camp Artaban Active
Brandon Anglican Memorial Camp Active
British Columbia Camp Columbia Active
Caledonia Camp Caledonia Tentative
Calgary Programs at other camps Active
Central Interior Camp Puntchesakut Inactive
Central Nfld. Mint Brook Camp Active
Eastern Nfld/Labrador Lavrock Camp Active
Edmonton Programs at other camps Active
Fredericton Medley, Brookwood Active
Huron Huron Church Camp Active
Keewatin Programs at other camps Active
Kootenay Owaissi Active
Montreal None
Moosonee None
New Westminster Camp Artaban Active
Niagara Canterbury Hills Active
Nova Scotia/PEI Three camps Active/tentative
Ontario Camp Hyanto Active
Ottawa None
Qu’Appelle Camp Knowles Inactive
Quebec Quebec Lodge Tentative
Rupert’s Land Anglican Island Closed in 2003
Saskatchewan Camp Okema Active
Saskatoon Active
Toronto Three camps Active
Western Nfld. Camp Killdevil Active
Yukon Braeburn Camp Active


Note: there is more than one camp named Artaban.

“Tentative” means that the camp is being reviewed or is in danger of closing.



  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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