By Lynda “Tuck” MacIntosh (Keep)
In the 1970s woman’s tripping did not exist at Camp Stephens.
I had attended “girl’s camp” for two years in the early 60s and as a youth leader at North “Y” I became hooked on camping.
At that time the YMCA and YWCA were separate organizations in Winnipeg. The YWCA ran Camp Kinnaird on an island in the Lake of the Woods near Stephens. Stephens ran for six weeks as a boys’ resident camp and Kinnaird ran for six weeks as a girls’ resident camp.
If you were a female member of the YMCA, your only option for resident camping was YWCA Camp Kinnaird. In the early 60s, the YMCA ran a “trial” girls’ camp during the last two weeks of August under the leadership of Sheila Gawley, who was the Women and Girls Physical Director at North “Y”.
Most of the campers were recruited from the “Y” branches in the city. In 1963 it ran again under the leadership of Ardis MacLennan, who was connected with the St. James “Y”. Although there were over-night canoe trips at these camps, there was no tripping program similar to the boys Voyageur program, which had begun at Stephens in 1963. As a camper and staff member at Stephens and as a leader corps member at the “Y”, I always thought this was really unfair.
Girls’ Camp petered out in 1964 (not sure why, perhaps lack of leadership or lack of interest). At the same time my parents decided to move to Los Angeles. I attended Grade 12 and four years of university in Los Angeles, returning each summer to work one summer as a counselor at Camp Kinnaird and then for three years at the North “Y in their summer programs.
I began to work on my dream of bringing girls camping (both resident and tripping) back to the Winnipeg YMCA. I was always bugging Hal Studholme, who was the executive director at North “Y”, about my dreams. I was also constantly haranguing Punch Jackson for ideas and development possibilities. I even wrote a paper on developing these ideas for a recreation course I was taking at university in Los Angeles.
When I graduated in 1970, I was hired to work as Youth Program Director at the St. James “Y”. Hal and Punch had created the Camping Branch for the Winnipeg “Y” and Punch was hired to direct the branch. He took over in the summer of 1970 and ran the programs out of Camp Manitou.
At the end of the summer in 1970 Punch became the director at Stephens. This was my chance! I nagged and nagged until I’m sure they were tired of seeing my face and hearing my voice.
In the summer of 1970 they gave me permission to start up Girls’ Camp, to run during the last two weeks of August at Stephens and to develop a girls’ tripping program that would use Camp Manitou as a base, as Stephens was still a boys’ camp for the first six weeks of the summer. Girls were definitely not welcome on the island during this time! At last, girls tripping programs were to be a reality.
The Serendipity Brigade began in the summer of 1970. I choose the name because “serendipity” means the ability to discover the unusual or the exciting…hence the Serendipity Brigade was a program for 12-14 year old girls, designed so that they might have a chance to do the exciting and unusual during summer vacation.
There was initially a lot of opposition to the establishment of a tripping program for girls. We worked hard, under trying circumstances, to develop a quality program that was tailored to meet the needs of girls.
Although we had lots of terrific counseling staff to choose from, none had canoe experience. We choose three of the best counselors – Marg Law, Joy Ramsay, Pat McDonald- and set about training them in canoeing and other trail skills.
We set up “base camp” at Manitou in an old abandoned cabin at the north edge of the site on the riverbank. We cleaned out the cabin and used it as a base for our program and to store our supplies. We taught fire-building, cooking on an open fire, setting up of tents and first aid skills to our campers during the first week. In the second week we headed off to Kenora by van and were taken to Channel Island on the Lake of the Woods via the Camp Kinnaird launch.
The Stephens' staff were supposed to come that day with canoes, paddles, and life-jackets for us, but they never showed up. We waited two days, stranded on the island before they arrived. They brought the oldest Vanguard canoes and paddles they could find. The life-jackets were key-holes made of kapok and as we later discovered, they sank when they were thrown in the water. We had a great time camping and cooking over the open fire, sleeping in tents and swimming, but we never did go “on the trail”. We weren’t discouraged, however.
Another trip that summer left from Clearwater Bay and looped around the northern part of Lake of the Woods. Equipment and logistics continued to be problems during that first summer.
The following summer, Serendipity was amalgamated with the Voyageur program which had been running for boys since 1963. Some of the first trippers were Karen Exchange, Michelle Halpin, Patti Pidlaski and Joanne Muirhead. Since that time, the tripping program for girls has grown and developed to include two, three, four and six week trips.
Below are some brochures and pictures from the archives related to the Serendipity Brigade of 1970 and 1971: