Sends us your email and ideas

We have more than 300 emails for camp alumni, but over the last couple of years some of you have moved or changed your email accounts.

Please send your new email and emails of other alumni to so that we can update our list of camp alumni.

If you have an idea for a blog entry or wish to contribute other material like letters, recipes, diary entries, trip maps. . .send them my way.

If any links are broken, please tell me.

And don't be bashful. It's OK to comment. Really. It's OK.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"To My Successor"

Staff pic from the early 70s.

"For the casual reader this document would appear comprehensive but for the new Director of Camping it is but a momentary orientation or covering sketch to the work and concerns ahead."

- outgoing Camp Stephens Camp Director Doug McEwen 1970

Doug McEwen put together this 54-page document that outlined the role of the camp director for incoming director Punch Jackson. It not only instructed Punch what he should know about filling Doug's shoes, but explains the overall philosophy of camp and its programs.

More important, Doug put on paper what a new director needs to know about the people working under him or her.

Doug McEwen
Much has obviously changed about Copeland Island in the past 43 years since this was written, but much of it is still recognizable today.

What Doug wrote so many years ago also offers a unique history of the island and camp.

And, of course, insight into some of the people who made it all happen.

Punch gave this to me at the 50th trail anniversary and I now share it with you. Download have a have a peek.

Merry Christmas, Bruce

Sunday, November 17, 2013

When you're 17. . .

Doug Abra introduces Punch Jackson at the 50th trail anniversary banquet at Camp Stephens on Aug. 31.

Grant Platts presents paintings by Susan Mitchell to Punch and Lynda MacIntosh. 

Video by Don Thompson. Unfortunately, Don's camera ran out of memory, which explains the abrupt ending.

If anyone else took video that weekend, please contact me.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Refinished floor in lodge - No shoes!

A few days after the 50th trail reunion last Labour Day weekend the floor in Lount Lodge was sanded and refinished.

Camp Director Steve Allen shares these photos to show what it looked like before camp closed for the winter.

Steve says a large number of diseased Balsam Firs were taken down on the island as well. These pines trees have a nasty habit of essentially rotting in the inside and can come down in a wind.

Steve adds there's a plan to begin to reforest the island much like what was done over two summers in the late 1970s when we planted the Red Pines along the cabin line and in front of Sussex Hill. 

Plans are also in to the works to redo the foundation of the depot/workshop building and getting a start of replacing aging equipment in the dining hall kitchen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Passages: Gord May

Gordon George May passed away September 30, 2013 with his loving family at his side. 

Gordon was born in Winnipeg on September 12, 1951 to the late George Oliver and Margaret Laura May. Gordon is survived by sisters Peggy Rislahti of Winnipeg, Shirley Curtis and husband Terry of Victoria B.C., and brother Ross May and wife Barbara of Cobble Hill B.C.

Gordon was an extra special Uncle to David Curtis and wife Tricia and children Callum and Nolan, Alan Curtis and wife Mia and children Rebecca and Nora, Colin Curtis and wife Kimberley and children Hannah and Dylan, Ainsley Pahl and husband Kevin and son Owen, and Kate Rislahti. 

Also surviving Gordon is his Uncle John and Aunt Laurel Fosness and cousins Patty Fosness, Nancy and Connell Gallagher, and Joan Bjornson. 

Gordon attended school in Winnipeg and then the University of Alberta, graduating in 1979 with a Degree in Recreation Administration. 

Gordon worked for the Government of Alberta in Edmonton for many years and then the Coaches Association of B.C. as Executive Director in Vancouver. 

Gord May and Neil Robinson at 50th Trail Reunion

In 2012 Gordon moved to Victoria to be closer to family. 

Gordon received the Queen's Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his commitment to the community. He had volunteered with the Special Olympics for many years. 

His other interests included travelling, woodworking, acting, and, most recently, painting. 

Gordon loved the outdoors having spent almost every summer at the cottage at Falcon Lake MB and, as a teenager, at the Y's Camp Stephens on Lake of the Woods. 

He enjoyed golfing, sailing, skiing, rugby and hiking. Gordon valued his many friends and always made an effort to keep in touch with people he met throughout his life. 

He in turn was loved and respected by many life-long friends including Chuck and Gabbie Morgan, Margot Ross Graham and Punch Jackson. 

The family would like to thank Dr. Savage and Cathy Paul at the B.C. Cancer Trial Drug Program in Vancouver for giving Gordon two extra years of life to enjoy. Also thanks to the compassionate nurses and doctors at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital on 4 South. 

A Memorial Service will be held on Monday, October 7 at 1 p.m. at McCall's Downtown, Johnson and Vancouver Streets, in Victoria B.C. 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the B.C. Cancer Agency or to the YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. 

Condolences may be offered to the family at

Published in The Times Colonist

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Birch Bark Canoe Part II

Punch Jackson and Jim King ponder the canoe

During the recent 50th Trail reunion at Camp Stephens, Jim King asked me what I knew about the birch bark canoe hanging in Lount Lodge.

I told him what I thought I knew, and what Punch Jackson had told me a couple of years ago.

You can see my original post about the history of the canoe here.

King furrowed his brows. He's a man of few words even when he's talking, and said he wasn't so sure about what I had told him.

Little did I know.

A while later King cornered Jackson and said he wanted to talk about the canoe hanging in Lount Lodge.

He also wanted to see it. Up close. Les Robinson volunteered to get a ladder.

It took a few minutes, and King soon scampered up the ladder armed with my iPhone.

Here's the story.

In the late 1960s Jackson and Kirk Wipper (again, read the original blog) made a deal that the original birch bark canoe would find a home in the then fledgling Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterbrough, Ont.

In exchange, Camp Stephens would get another birch bark canoe and templates to make kayaks.

Enter Jim King. This was just before he took out the first six-week trip in 1969. More on that here.

King was dispatched to Ottawa to fetch the new canoe to bring back to Camp Stephens. He tied it to the roof of his parent's old car--he had inherited it--and drove back to Kenora.

It would eventually be hung in the dining hall when it stayed until it moved over to the lodge.

I always was thought the canoe was more of a decoration and was never meant to touch water.

Wrong. King says it was made to paddle.

A few people at camp even took it around the bay before it found its home in the dining hall.

King says the canoe he brought back from Ottawa had a special webbing that would allow it to be safely paddled. 

To be sure the canoe in the lodge was that same canoe, King went up the ladder to see if it indeed had that webbing.

As you can see from the pictures he took, it does.

It's the same canoe.

While it's in relatively good shape for a hand-made canoe pushing 50, King says there's evidence insects have gotten inside of it. The canoe will need some type of protection so that it sees another 50 years.

King also says he remembered paying $150 to bring the canoe to camp.

What he couldn't remember is whether he submitted a receipt to the Y for reimbursement.

Camp never did get the kayak templates.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Camp Stephens 50th Trail Anniversary 2013

Don Thompson shares these photos and words on the trail reunion at Camp Stephens on the Labour Day Weekend.

Just click the link below to watch his slideshow:

To download photos, click on "Browse Photos".

Don Thompson and Kate Paterson

Memories of Camp Stephens 50th Wilderness Trail Reunion August 29 – September 01, 2013

Although I never went out as a Trail member post 1963, I was on the Trail with Punch prior to that in 61-62. I started as a camper at Stephens in 1957 – or thereabouts as best as I can recall….where is Abes when you need him????

I was one of those old guys sitting on the chairs in the back of chapel Sunday morning (the floor is easy to get to – it’s just gotten harder to get up from over the years…..)

As we all enjoyed the discussions about legacy, I realized that although over the years the words of our experiences have changed, the common human experience that bonds us is still the same.

In my/our day, way back when, we were taught/shared the Emblem Rock trilogy of Spirit, Mind,  Body. We believed in the motto “I’m Third”, which means God is first, the other fellow is second, and I’m third. I think the current motto of Respect, Caring and Responsibility means the same.

What I saw, heard and felt is that all folks who “ventured down the trail” through the years gained and share the same common human experience. We all came to camp because we wanted to – or perhaps our parents wanted us to – for various reasons – but we all had fun, made friends, gained some self -confidence, enjoyed nature – and most of us wanted to come back again.

Those of us who came back and hit the trail enjoyed the added advantage of experiencing a closer connection with nature, a sense of survival and pioneering. We learned to trust one another (sometimes with life and death situations) as a special family unit that survived through thick and thin (and wind and water)…… we had to grow up a little on each trail trip. We gained in self-confidence. We grew stronger physically, mentally and emotionally (well most of us did..) we achieved a “right of passage” of sorts, that I still cannot adequately describe -  a wonderful sense of satisfaction and of belonging – maybe for me it was that I realized I am a meaningful part of society and the universe (wow this is getting scary and too heady for me…….. fun actually).

I was particularly impressed with the number of women at this great weekend event. I had not realized over the years how large and meaningful this program has become for the young women in our community. I commend, admire and respect you all – Tuck – you are a legacy unto yourself! Congratulations and Thanks for a job well done!

I noticed some similarities and changes with Punch and I too…….. we have both put on a few pounds and a little grey hair (changes). When we were on the trail Punch was always steering and I was in the bow. This weekend Punch was driving the car and I was riding shot gun – I was still listening and he was still doing all the talking…………(similarities). He is a great layer of seeds for the mind and food for thought.

Punch – my great friend for many decades – You too are a legacy. Thank you for your passion, dedication and love of camping and The Trail. What you have created will out- ive all of us. 

We will never see all the great good that will come to this world from what was …..simply your 17 year old dream. I am proud to know you and to enjoy our friendship – thank you for all you continue to do!

Don Thompson

Monday, September 2, 2013

So here's to you. . .

Ted Spear

So here's to you my ramblin' boy

May all your rambling bring you joy

So here's to you my ramblin' boy

May all your rambling bring you joy.

-- A Tom Paxton song sung by Ted Spear

This was just one of many special moments for me this past weekend at camp. 

There were others. Learning the truth about the canoe that hangs in Lount Lodge. A walk with an old friend to Chief's Point. The   rekindled memories. Watching people reconnect. Seeing all the little kids and their parents chasing after them. Garrett's video at banquet. The camp song after brunch the next day. Polar Bear. My list goes on.

Most of all I enjoyed the mix of young and old. Age and the years between didn't separate us. Nor should it.

Thanks for coming. Thanks for being there. 

Thanks to Camp Stephens for being such wonderful hosts. You nailed it guys.

Thanks to Tuck and Punch.

And Susan for her paintings.

Thanks to everyone who showed up at meetings over the past couple of years at the ANAF and the legislative building's boardroom. You guys nailed it, too.

Thanks to Grant, the glue that holds it all together.

The next event we can participate in happens Oct. 6 at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg.

Of everything, it's the most important, and the reason we started this thing in the first place. See you soon.

-- Bruce

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The War Canoe Trip (Or how Hal challenged the wilderness on the last great war canoe adventure)

By Hal Studholme

The challenge was daunting: 16, 11 and 12 year olds, two first year counsellors and two CIT’s on a daring venture seldom if ever attempted by Camp Stephen’s staff.  

Led by a leader of yet-to-be-proven experience but unquestioned courage, they would test their very manhood in an area of the great lake whose very name sent a chill down his spine, THE HADES!  

What was it about this tangle of waters and islands that would cause early cartographers to give it the title of Hell itself? These were the things he pondered on the eve of the trip. Was his courage truly up to the test? And what of his young crew, just innocent, untested boys. Drifting in and out of a fitful sleep, he reviewed every aspect of his plan. But he knew, in the end, it was his decision and his alone.

Camp Stephens itself was just embarking on the Voyageur Program, an ambitious plan to venture out beyond nearby waters around Copeland Island and to explore far reaches of the great lake itself. Indeed, as a bastion of the very spirit of male valour, it meant to go beyond where no Stephen’s man had gone before.  

Thus, he took it on as a matter of honour to be a part of this adventure. It was his third year at Stephens and he had yet to take out a trip. This was not due to any lack of courage or skill. His camping background was based in an eastern Y camp that had a huge outdoor swimming pool and a shallow, unnavigable creek at the bottom of a steep ravine. It was experience ideally suited to the Lake of the Woods waters. 

To prepare, he had spent many an evening leaning over the front dock practicing every stroke in the lexicon of canoe lore over those three years. Indeed, the power of his ‘J’ stroke could almost move the dock from its moorings. He was ready.

He awoke well before the sun crested over the islands on the eastern skyline. The sky was clear, just fluffy clouds and a light breeze that stirred the waters on the shore below Art’s cabin. He quietly slipped from his sleeping bag, being careful not to wake his staff companions. Though they masked their awe of his brave venture with much laughter and words of derision, he knew they envied him. 

Poor lads, he thought, they will never have an opportunity such as this. The tiny, fragile two man canvas canoes they paddled could never match the great ships of state that he was to lead this day. I will have to bring back small tokens of the adventure to cheer them up on my return. Squaring his shoulders he stepped off the porch and strode down the cabin line to rouse his crew and begin the “Challenge of The Hades” as he had come to think of it!

He found them ready and already garbed in their kapok life vests, caps at a jaunty angle, feet shod in clean black and white runners. They wore their Stephens T shirts and matching white shorts. They would offer fine example of the quality of campers that come from Stephens to passing boats. He felt a surge of pride. Gathered together they walked in step with heads high to the canoe racks at the end of the campus.

The great war canoes were resting on their gunnels on the lowest rack. He stationed all eight campers, with their counsellor and CIT around the first huge red canoe. “All together, heave.” he shouted. Up rose the heavy vessel. 

“Lower and turn it upright.” he instructed. 

The maneuver went well for a moment and then the craft slipped from their hands and despite their efforts to avoid it, the canoe fell directly upon him.

Fortunately, due to a rain two days previous, the ground was softened and the mud under him cushioned his fall. The responses of the crew to this disaster was heartening and he dismissed his first thought that he heard snickering and laughter. They carefully slide the canoe from his chest and he rose none the worse except for the mud plastered on his back and butt. 

Fortunately, the other craft was successfully launched and, at last, boarding the sturdy, untippable canoes, they pushed off. Of course he took the prow of the lead canoe, leaving the two counsellors to be helmsmen. They would follow his guiding hand without question he assured himself.

Unfortunately, there had been no time in the days previous to practice paddling the large canoes. Thus there was considerable splashing, banging of paddles, wild changes of course, a near collision with the other canoe, and worst of all, some very inappropriate language. 

Wondering where these youngsters had heard such words, he firmly scolded them. They were respectfully silent after that. Finally, they appeared to sort out their respective roles and as he called a cadence for their pace, they exited the front bay. 

As they rounded Chief’s Point the camp director came out to give them a hearty cheer and send off. He waved back to acknowledge the call of farewell and ignored his helmsman who said he thought the director was yelling, “Where in the hell do you think you’re going?” He tried to recall exactly when he had reported his plans for the trip. No matter, all would be well on their triumphant return.

They were off to such a good start that he decided a song would be appropriate to bond them as crews. He quickly discovered that “The Grand Old Duke of York” was not a good choice for it called for them to stand from time to time which nearly caused the canoes to capsize amidst another outburst of disrespectful language, some of it aimed at him. Songs were out. 

They paddled on in silence except for his occasional need to resort to calling pace to the paddlers. He had consulted charts of the area that was their destination and so he led them out across the great stretch of water with confidence. Despite a brisk breeze causing some mild consternation on the part of the helmsmen, they kept course and soon were ready to enter THE HADES. He was surprised that the trip thus far had taken not more than an hour. His original estimate had been a full day’s paddle. 

No matter, more time to explore.

Looking back over his shoulder he checked on the food packs and water jugs he had had loaded aboard. There was nothing in the bottom of the canoe but the running shoes that the paddlers had discarded in a jumbled heap. Do not show panic he told himself. All will be well. Besides, all intrepid explorers had to face some hardship of meager rations. It would be a good lesson to them all. 

They paddled on. As they were not approaching the area where he expected the entry to THE HADES to be found he had them all search for a large, overhanging white pine tree on a great granite outcrop that he had been told marked the entrance. The problem was, there appeared to be dozens of such trees and the area was nothing but granite rock.  

No matter, he would just check the chart he had folded neatly and placed in the back pocket of his shorts. To his dismay he found the paper of the chart smeared with mud and so saturated that it came apart in shreds as he tried to unfold it. No matter, “Keep searching lads,” he cried.                                                                                                                                             
At last, one of the 12 year olds saw the entrance. He explained he often went fishing in the THE HADES with his dad as his family had a cottage nearby. Smart little %$#@&% he thought, but mumbled a thank you. The helmsmen steered the canoes into the waters of their destination and he called for a rest which had the approval of all. 

The water in the immediate area was a flat calm. It was somewhat disconcerting as he had expected, with a name like THE HADES, there would be cresting waves and dangerous eddies to challenge. 

Never mind, we should find an appropriate spot for our luncheon. Then he remembered, the food packs had not come on the trip, nor had the water jugs. 

No matter. There may be plentiful wild berries and similar edibles. Just then one of the young lads asked if he could drink from the canteen he had brought along. Immediately the call went out from several of the crew for a water break all round.

“No, no water lads,” he shouted. “This is a test of our mettle. And part of my plan. We will each take one sip from Jimmy’s canteen and that should be sufficient.”  Jimmy did not look pleased but he did, after a stern look, pass the canteen. Unfortunately, the lad who passed it to him took the last drop. 

No matter, I am here to set an example. “And we will all enjoy a meal of triumph when we return to camp and open our food packs,” he announced. Once again he had to chide them for bad language.

They spent the next hour paddling leisurely around the waters of THE HADES. Dozens of islands, small and large dotted the area. He noted that there were many cottages along the shores and on a few of the islands. The uncharted waters he had envisioned were obviously a myth. 

Perhaps the area was named after some family named Hades? At this time he noticed some menacing dark clouds beginning to arrive over what he assumed was the north east. Time to head for home. We just might make lunch. “Let’s head for the exit channel lads,” he called. He pointed to what he assumed was the western end of the area. “It’s just behind that island over there.”

It wasn’t. Nor was it behind another six other islands as they began to paddle aimlessly. Pointing out that fact, one of the counsellor-helmsmen got a strong chewing out for his interference with the leader’s directions. At last, in frustration they steered to a nearby boat where some men were fishing. “Excuse me gentlemen, he called. Do you know where the exit channel is?”

With a chuckle, one of the men, with an unfamiliar accent, replied, “Just go to your right a couple of islands and you’ll find it.”  

Assuming the man was from somewhere exotic, like Keewatin, he asked, “Where are you from, sir, if you don’t mind me asking?”   “Atlanta Georgia, USA,” the man replied. Are you lads from that Y camp yonder?”

“I’m from Toronto,” he called back over his shoulder as he urged the canoes forward as quickly as possible.

The paddle back to Stephens was accomplished in a driving rain. Along with their food and water they had also left their ponchos on the dock. They arrived at mid-afternoon. All of camp was on the campus to meet them, including the camp director, Ron Watson, who stood, arms crossed across his chest and a scowl on his face. 

“Boys,” he shouted, as they beached the war canoes, “your food packs and some hot soup from lunch are waiting for you in the dining hall.

“And you Studholme, after you put the canoes back on the rack, are restricted to a rowboat, with a guide, for the rest of camp. Go get changed!”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Extended canoe tripping at Camp Stephens -- How the six week started

By Doug McEwen

Doug McEwen and Jim King in 1969

My memory has faded a little after 44 years, but the 1969 six week canoe trip was an “evolution” of canoe tripping at Camp Stephens. 

Actually, some of that evolution is highly personalized from my own growth and development in the YMCA and through my professional involvement in children’s residential camping. 

I liked to think there was a high level of my own leadership in that evolution but much of that effort was led by others – Punch Jackson, Jim King, and so many of their peers. What greatly helped too were the associations we formed with others in the camping fraternity.

Thus, for this document, I have broken the material into three parts:
Part A: My Personal Input
Part B: The Partnerships and Influences that we formed with others.
Part C: Balancing Risks & Adventure in Camping Excellence.

Part A:   Camp Stephens is in my bones

In 1919 my father, Nelson McEwen, from Charlottetown, P.E.I., at the age of 22 was hired as Assistant Boys Work Secretary in the Winnipeg YMCA. There was no camp program that year because of the Spanish Flu epidemic but the following year he assisted at Camp Stephens and set several things in motion. He founded the Order of the Triangle (Secret societies were a rage at the time and he recruited and worked with many young men – among them, Mitchel Sharp, Bill Master (here my memory escapes – I saw a photo album once with the pictures of 23 young men, actually teenagers). From this group came a number of leaders in Y Youth programs during that time and things like the old chapel altar was a project as well as the first Order of CS. Nelson personally directed Camp Stephens from 1924 to 1927 (I think) and then was recruited to serve as the Boys Work Secretary in the Montreal YMCA and also directed Camp Kanawana of the Montreal Y. He served that post for ten years before being seconded to the National Council of YMCA’s in 1937 as National Boys Work Secretary. 

During his years in that position, he developed the Hi-Y program to a massive size and conducted two National Assemblies of Hi-Y in 1940 and 1946 at Geneva Park. Interestingly along with his good friend, Taylor Statten, he founded the Canadian Camping Association in 1946 and served as Secretary while Taylor was President. It should be remembered that much of the discipline of group work (i.e. a whole understanding of how youth grow and develop in informal group programs) - like cabin groups and club groups was developed in the YMCA and especially in children’s residential camps during the 1920s, 30s and 40s! (Also during his National Council years Nelson met and married Winifred Maynard and became father to yours truly in the spring of 1940). And thus it was that my own interest and focus in YMCA Youth programing and camping got somewhat of a ‘genetic’ start.

In 1947 Nelson McEwen was offered and accepted the position of General Secretary in the Saint John YMCA. (It was during his service there that he recruited men like Ross Bannerman, Lloyd and Niles Ring, Doug Allen who all went on to make contributions in the Saint John  and Canadian YMCAs). It was also there that I started my own camping activity at Camp Pascobac of the Saint John YMCA and progressed in my swimming skills. (Camp Pascobac in 1951 was directed by Ross Bannerman – my first Camp director! Ross was subsequently recruited by my Dad to Winnipeg where he established the St. James YMCA branch and personally directed Camp Stephens in 1956. Ross went on and in due course became CEO of the Montreal YMCA in the late 1970s).

It was in 1951 that the Winnipeg YMCA was ready to grow beyond the downtown building and North End Branch. Nelson was offered and accepted the position as the first Metropolitan General Secretary of the Winnipeg YMCA. 

It was at the Central Branch that I enrolled in swim and gym classes and was pleasantly surprised to be invited to join the Junior Leaders Corps. (Those were the days when Sid Glenesk and Bill Halstead were staff in the Phys Ed Department and Frank Hoffman and Alex Owen held sway in the Boys Work Department) When Bill Halstead asked me to join Junior Leaders he visibly blushed when I told him my name in response to his question – he had not known that I was Nelson’s son! It was important to me that I was chosen for myself and not simply as the son of the boss. 

Certainly as time went on, I grew through the Leaders corps, Hi-Y, the Gymnastics Club and the Trident Youth Club at the Y and started my Camp Stephens relationship in 1952 as a camper in Better ’Ole with Gord Danzinger as my counsellor. I returned for two more years as a camper in 1953 and 1954. In 1955 I was able to serve as a C.I.T. even though I had been chosen to attend the World Centennial YMCA Youth Conference in Paris, France. I served only one year as a Camp counsellor at Stephens in 1956 as in 1957 and 1958 I served as a Section Director at Day Camp at Camp Manitou. I returned to Stephens as Waterfront Director in 1959 and then in 1960 I served as Senior Section Director and ‘Tripper’. Those two years were pivotal to my development in youth programming endeavours and in camping as an unique method of youth growth and development.

During these years, I was trusted with responsibilities that outstripped my skills and maturity but which massively challenged me to think away beyond the simple transmission of swimming/boating skills and camping/canoeing. As I later moved into YMCA programming and camping as a professional, this ‘initiation’ served me well to conceptualize the bigger picture as to how these elements result in the growth and character development of young people. (But more of that theme later).

In addition to my camping focus, I was privileged to be a Fellowship Secretary in the Winnipeg YMCA during my University years (1958 to 1961). While much of this consisted of teaching swimming and lifeguarding swimming pools, it was also an opportunity to begin thinking beyond skills transmission to both quality in instruction and developing programs which offered ‘age-graded’ opportunities beyond simply repeated experiences in group activity.

As I entered my last year in university, my Fellowship experience was moved from Central Y to the St. James Branch, where my continuing development was heavily influenced by Ross Bannerman and Tom Potts. It was Ross who offered me my first full-time YMCA position in Winnipeg. He competed effectively with Ham Gosse of the Regina YMCA. (These two men would both describe themselves as Nelson McEwen’s boys in their YMCA careers. Despite the fact that my father died while still in active Y service in 1956, these men seemed desirous of training and challenging the son of their former mentor).

With my graduation and then employment in the “non-physical education” aspect of YMCA programming, an important time of my personal growth came in applying group work skills to an important component the breadth of YMCA programming as it was then evolving. Tragically, as we were unable to ‘commercialise’ this aspect of YMCA activity what is probably the most significant component of character development, uniquely crafted to near perfection by the YMCA, has now been lost to stuffy and now irrelevant papers like this one!

In any event, the summers of 1961, 1962 and 1963 saw me, not at Camp Stephens but in leading and developing Day Camping as a significant program in the Winnipeg YMCA. (It was during this period that I did postgraduate study of group psychology, continued my interest in literary criticism of the Bible and got actively involved in municipal, provincial and federal politics. It was also during this time that, on behalf of the Y,

I gave fairly significant leadership to the annual Boys (later Youth) Parliament movement in Manitoba which expanded the interests of youth beyond swimming, clubs and camping to social/political/debating interests as well. It was a challenging and active time).

I returned to Camp Stephens in 1964 to assist Hal Studholme for two summers before succeeding him and expanding the senior YMCA camping position as the first full-time Director of Camping for the YMCA at the Winnipeg ‘Metro’ level.

Part B. Winnipeg YMCA Camping Development and Partnering in the late 1960’s

During the period of 1966 through to and including the years to the autumn of 1970 were golden years for camping development in Winnipeg.
1.  In 1967, I was elected to the position of President of the Canadian Camping Association and with other Manitoba camping personnel; we tried to give leadership to residential camping development across Canada. It was Canada’s Centennial year and we conducted the Centennial Journey where teams from Canadian residential camps journeyed by canoe through historic Canadian waterways. (Camp Stephens was chosen to traverse the Winnipeg River from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Winnipeg as a part of that venture, successfully co-ordinated by John Latimer of Camp Kilcoo in Ontario).
2.    Through my (Canadian Camping Association) CCA involvement I worked with Dr. Kirk Wipper (a Phys Ed professor at the U of Toronto and a private children’s camp owner, not to mention the developer of the Canadian Canoe Museum) I got Kirk to come to Camp Stephens to conduct a canoeing instruction program and shared many ideas about canoe tripping and ‘trail experience’ between his camp and our camp staff. In my memory, John MacBeth shone from Kirk’s expertise in canoeing and went on to give significant leadership, not only to us at Stephens but also in other locations. I remember our staff being very impressed with the ‘Kevlar’ canoes from Camp Kandalore (Kirk’s camp).
3.  Similarly, as President of CCA I met and worked with Armand Ball who was President of the American Camping Association and Director of a Camp Widjiwagen in the Superior National Forest. Through him, our staff were exposed to his excellent canoe tripping program where his canoes never touched anything but water; his camp’s canoe trips, frequently long ones, traced historic canoe routes of both Canadian and American explorers; and two-packing of canoes was ‘de rigeur’. I believe, if memory serves me correctly, Jim King was a primary beneficiary of this exposure and led to his own excellence as a canoe trip leader.
4.  It was also through this period that I obtained numerous opportunities and exposures with others professionally engaged in children’s residential camping to conduct camping leadership seminars where our professional leadership was challenged to provide training opportunities for our peers in camps and through developing centres of outdoor education at universities. I considered myself highly flattered to assist in the founding of the Saskatchewan Camping Association and provide co-leadership with Bob Johnson of Camp White Bear in their first Camping Conference. That ultimately led to my own opportunity to give key leadership to the Alberta Camping Association Conference in February of 1971.
5.    From the wealth of exposure to other centres of camping excellence came some recognition of Camp Stephens as a camp way beyond most institutional children’s camps of the day and gave a confidence to our staff which set us in good stead for the future. In recognition I served on the Board of the National Symposium of Recreation for Expo ’67 and was also made a Charter Fellow of the Canadian Society of Camp Directors and have retained my active status to this day.
6.    While Camp Stephens, since the late 1960’s has been known for its canoeing and tripping expertise, there was also, in that period, significant investment in other things that lead to excellence in children’s residential camping.
During that period all of the camper cabins were replaced; the Canoe Centre and tripping depot was built; some ‘jungle’ undergrowth in main camp area was reduced; hydroelectric power was extended to camp from Town Island; and a 9 boat sailing fleet made up of ‘Snipe’ class sailboats from the Pan Am Games (purchased by individuals but then donated by these same persons!) was received and we set up a sailing program.
Without in any way denigrating the Camp Stephens focus on canoes and Canoe tripping, during this period Camp Stephens also
-   Developed its the sailing program,
-   Place a focus on research in camp staff training,
-  Led Canadian research examining experience and personality characteristics to predict ‘success’ in Camp staffing (in partnership with Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University in Montreal,
-       Hosted the conduct of French Immersion camping,
-       Organized a National seminar on Intercultural camping,
-       Gave some extended leadership to Outdoor Education through Universities and school divisions,
-       Conducted, and an attempt at some girls’ Camping. (Unfortunately, while we examined the idea, Family and Young Adult Camping while experimented with earlier never really got restarted after the closing of Winnipeg YMCA Camp Pala, north of Minaki in 1954).

In tracing historic connections, partnerships and the ‘evolution’ of camping at Camp Stephens, what can be easily overlooked is what camping truly is and is meant to be. Bear with me here, while I attempt to be succinct and identify the components of excellence in children’s residential camping (This then also applies to canoe tripping and extended canoe trips).
1.    By definition, camping takes place in the out of doors. There is a skill set required to limit the risks associated with weather, the natural setting, water (or snow or mountains or horses or sailboats or any other prospective focal venture). These skills must be a focus for safety, of course, but also because the mastery of outdoor skills is interesting, challenging and fun.
2.    Also by definition in the sense of ‘organized’ camping it is not a ‘solo’ activity. Camping for its greatest value is undertaken in groups. Groups may be large but are most successful when focused on four to ten campers living and functioning together – not just for a few hours at a time but 24 hours a day for, in my view, at very least, a week and preferably somewhat longer. This sustained experience and interplay of personalities provides an intensity which, if conducted well, can be the single most effective means of changing or developing attitudes and behaviour of people in groups. To my mind six weeks on the trail with a peer group can be a life changing or more particularly an evolving experience which is unique in developmental terms.
3.    Camping is ‘shared living’ – being a lot of common activity such as cooking, eating, sleeping, just talking and playing together. In saying that, sharing also benefits from a brief respite to be alone, yay, even naked in the breeze on a hilltop, or deep in thought staring into a starry sky with only loons for company and a million other possibilities that really only enhance the intensity of time spent within elbow’s length of another fellow camper for days at a time.
4.  While camping, like life, needs private time and contemplative time, it is, importantly active time. Co-operative actions are a key to success if camping is to be the force for change and development that it is and can be. Camping is least successful when only one or two persons in a group are doing the activity – it is most successful when the functions of the group are shared fully among all of its members.
5.    Importantly, camping by definition required a shared purpose and meaning – particular ‘destination’ or ‘objective’ which has meaning for all participants. It gets characterized as the ‘spirit of the venture’ and is the focus of memories which linger after a lifetime.
6.    Camping is also adventure. As noted, it involves action, and, frankly should involve risk! That is a managed risk. There is no camp director canoe trip leader who does not trouble his or her mind with those horrific ‘what ifs’… a drowning, a lightning strike, a lost person, communications loss and on and on forever. The leader whose focus is a qualitative one, does not seek to avoid all risk but who does try to mitigate that risk in advance – and the more that the leader is joined by all participants in this sensitivity, the greater the quality of the experience will be.
7.    Camping when it involves children and teens is ‘age-graded’. A ten year old attending a residential camping experience will not get as much, (indeed probably very little) from an extended canoe trip as will an older and better prepared as well as experienced camper. In some camps going to camp three times, frequently results in the same camping experience three times. What we strive for is to give a progressive three-year or more camping experience!
8.    Finally camping must be fun. There can be and needs to be challenging, threatening, earnestly-testing as well as lazy and wasted times at camp but there also has to be a time of light-hearted reverie that leaves that good feeling – We had a good time!! We had fun!!

The combination of these things, in balance, is the essence of quality in the camping experience. They lead to why an extended canoeing experience was undertaken at Camp Stephens and remains as a model for camping ‘traditions’ as well as excellence.

Part C. Getting the Extended Canoe Tripping Experience started.

Despite my fond memories and my professional orientation as to what camping is and should be, the actual events and decisions that led to the extended (or six week trip) do not stand out in my mind. 

Clearly, however, they are a part of an evolution in canoe tripping and of developing excellence in camping programs that we were striving for in the late 1960s.

When the six-week trip began to come into an operational phase, several evolutions had already occurred. The wilderness tripping program had developed an invitational (or elite) tradition and thus a longer, hence more challenging basis was logical. I remember that my own personal disappointment, at the time, was that the route chosen, while well-researched for destinations, options, communication points etc. it was not characterized as the outstanding and documented trip of Alexander Mackenzie or some other famous Canadian explorer resulting from study of journals and learning of early Canadian exploration. 

In fact though, as it turned out, it was a voyage and adventure that challenged all the things that had been studied in advance – the risks turned out to be more significant than I recalled in reaching my decision to approve the trip.

How did such a trip get approved? There is no magic about that. When we looked at it, I liked the proposal and the challenges that I foresaw. I trusted the staff who would be leading the experience and the likely participants who would go. The approval was given by me personally. 

Certainly, the Camp Board were informed, but not consulted in advance, nor required to give approval. Adventures were had by all but I was always confident that the extended canoe trip was a great innovation in our camping program – History appears to have borne that out – BUT that is because good leadership coupled with a desire for excellence has prevailed over all of the time in between – a true credit to the young people involved in Camp Stephens camping.