I am feeling for all the youth camps across the country right now. They’re holding on and trying to keep afloat during this pandemic. Heck, they’ve always had it tough even before all these shutdowns happened. Some might not make it through the storm, but others may persevere. Let’s have a brief look at history and all the camps in Ontario’s Algonquin Park.

Youth camps are one of the biggest treasures of Algonquin. The earliest youth group recorded paddling in the park was Bordentown Military Institute back in 1907. The first established camp, however, was an all-girls camp named Camp Northway, established in 1908 on Cache Lake by Fannie Case. She was an educator from Rochester, New York. Miss Case was criticized heavily for bringing girls into the wilderness, as many believed canoe trips were too difficult for young women. She proved them wrong. The popularity of camp-organized canoe trips became the selling point of Camp Northway and other camps were quick to follow suit and adopted this activity in their marketing campaigns.

Camp Minnewawa on Lake of Two Rivers and Long Trail Camp on Little Joe Lake were both built in 1911. Renowned camp owner Taylor Camp (aka The Chief) brought Camp Ahmek to Algonquin’s Little Wapomeo Island in 1921, and his wife Ethel opened up the girl’s Camp Wapomeo in 1924.

Explore MagazineKevin Callan (Kyla in poncho)

Some camps became legendary, like Camp Arowhon, Camp Tamakwa and Camp Tanamakoon, while others failed in the first year. Camp Pathfinder on Source Lake is the oldest camp still operating in Algonquin and is connected to the Meanest Link.

Camp Pathfinder was established back in 1914 by Rochester educators Franklin Gray and William Bennett, becoming the second camp in Algonquin.

Youth camps helped create most of the canoe routes in Algonquin. During Camp Pathfinder's early years, most trips were taken on nearby lakes, like Smoke and Ragged lakes. Camps were just too busy settling in on their island basecamp to venture farther. By the mid-1920s, however, camps broadened their tripping programs. In 1926, an exploratory route was taken down the Oxtongue and South River, and farther to the Lake of Bays the following year. By the 1930s, routes had expanded to the Nipissing River, Barron Canyon and down the Amable du Fond River to the Mattawa River and North Bay. Now, trips up in northern Quebec and James Bay have been added to some of the camps' trip lists.

There is no question that camp life changes people for the better. To quote the current Camp Pathfinder director, Michael Sladden: “The values and experiences are timeless. Those lakes and forests are still the ultimate setting for fostering independence and positive life lessons.”

Explore MagazineKids at camp