Editorial: Summer Camp

Trent Ernst, Editor


On Sunday afternoon, we made the drive out to Moberly Lake to drop our eldest off for a week at Camp Sagitawa.

While I don’t have much history with Sagitawa, I went to summer camp at least once, sometimes twice a summer. When I got too old to attend, I started volunteering at camps.

After getting married, my wife got a job working at a camp that operated ten months a year as a retreat centre and two months a year as camp. Because I was freelancing at the time, I would frequently get drafted to go out and help cook, or, more often than not, wash the dishes.

Summer camp has a special place in my heart, and I am still in contact with a couple of the people that I met 25 years ago.

My camp of choice was a place called Shekinah, located in the North Saskatchewan River Valley, about 15 minutes from my home-town of Waldheim Saskatchewan.

The camp was … rustic. The dining hall didn’t have walls for the first few years that I went, and instead of cabins, there were giant tents that could sleep up to eight kids.

I was not a popular person back in school. I was overweight, and wore glasses that were frequently broken and taped up. Summon up your best fat nerd cliché and that was basically me. Is. Whatever.

As a result, I tended to get teased a lot, and I found school to be … challenging. I had a few people that were friends, but for the most part, I really didn’t fit in anywhere.

But come summer, school would end, and I could go to camp for a week.

I don’t know what it was, but at camp, the kids were friendlier, the leaders were like family, and the things we got to do! Archery! Canoing down the Saskatchewan river! Eating supper with a potato masher!

Something about camp just clicked for me. Looking back, camp was like the telephone poles that held up the wire of the rest of my life.

Not every moment at camp was perfect. I remember once, at about 14 years of age, I decided to accompany a friend to his favourite camp.

One the surface, it was died and gone to heaven. The camp was comprised of one cabin of boys (about eight of us) and six cabins full of girls (about fifty of them). If ever the odds were stacked in my favour, this was the time.

Unlike the rustic nature of Shekinah, Redberry was upscale. Cabins. Horseback riding. And a pool.

It was the pool that defined that week at camp. You see the friend I went to camp with, Rob, was also a heavyset kid, and, since we hung out together all the time, one of the other kids called us “the beluga brothers.” The name stuck through the week.

It’s a painful memory, even more painful than remembering going out horseback riding every day. At the time, my fashion sense ran to loose-fitting track pants and undies, and I discovered that there is a really good reason that cowboys wear tight jeans.

Despite that experience, my opinion of summer camp remained high. The good experiences far outweighed the bad.

Sagitawa is under evacuation alert, as a fire burns west of the lake. While there weren’t many forest fires around where I grew up in Saskatchewan (near the transition from prairie to Canadian Shield, though favouring the prairies side of things), the camp did have to be evacuated once, as the river flooded, covering the valley bottom where the camp was located with about a foot of water. Fortunately, the river overflowing its banks is a far more localized event than a fire, and we simply packed up the tents and moved them up the hill, to an open patch of ground near the caretaker’s house.

Even now, so many years later, I find my mind turning back to those times. Sleeping out under the stars. Singing around the campfire. Skit night. Wide games. Running the paths in the near dark from the main building back to my tent, having done it so many times that I could do it almost by feel.

Many of my happiest childhood memories revolve around camp. We never know what will remain in our memories when they happen. It is only later, as we look back, that we see what was important to us. But I’m glad I had the chance to make those memories. And I hope all you parents are giving your children the freedom to make their own summer memories, because sometimes the smallest thing can stick with us forever.