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 19, 2015

Camp Stephens '73

The 1973 camp year book

Go to camp in '73? 

Not sure? 

Download your PDF copy here to see if you can pick yourself out.

Not even born in 1973? Well, download your own copy to see if you can spot mom or dad.

Or download a copy anyway to get a glimpse of what camp was like in year in which Aerosmith released its first album (Yes, on vinyl), the Vietnam War came to an end and Justin's dad was prime minister.

Friday, December 18, 2015

August 1941

In the summer of 1941 news about the war in Europe and the Far East dominated the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Except on Monday Aug. 4.

On this day a story ran on page two that Camp Stephens was under quarantine. Three cases of "infantile paralysis" had been confirmed.

Or polio, an infectious disease that attacks the central nervous system and can cause temporary and in serious cases permanent paralysis and even death. Thousands of Canadians were infected by polio in the years before the first vaccine was developed in the mid 1950s.

So health authorities swooped down on camp and placed it under quarantine, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world. 

Within a few days, each of the stricken boys showed signs of a full recovery and the quarantine was lifted.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Chapel: The deaths of Leslie Brown and Alf McLarnon

One of my first jobs when I arrived on the island in 1976 was cleaning up the area behind the chapel.

I was one of about half a dozen teenagers who made up the operations crew. Burton Tutt (Boryen) was our counsellor.

At that time operations was designed to be much like a senior's cabin group. We were too old to be campers, but young enough still to be an ad hoc cabin group.

The idea was that Burton would teach us life skills like cleaning toilets, cutting grass, cabin window and screen repair and making garbage runs to Kenora. We also learned the difference between flat head, Robertson and Phillips screwdrivers.

We were also responsible for composting organic kitchen waste from the dining hall. We dumped it the 8-holer, which at that time was still standing in the bush next to the septic field, near the camp fire circle.

We worked July and August, including girl's camp, and at the end each of us was paid a whopping $100 for our efforts.

Burton also had us cut the grass, weeds and stinging nettles at the original chapel site, just off the path from the log cabin to Raspberry Rock. Burton told us that we should keep the area accessible and neat because you never knew when an old camp alumni may visit the island.

An old, small rock cairn was in the middle of the chapel. 

The old chapel below Raspberry rock. The remains of the cairn may still be there.
The old chapel was moved from its original location in July 1925 to its current location, most likely because the original spot was a tad boggy and wet. The camp director at the time was Nelson McEwen.

From the Manitoba Free Press July 29, 1925:

Camp 'Stephen's 'Outdoor 'Chapel to Open Sunday 
The opening of the new. outdoor chapel at Camp Stephens, Lake of the Woods, near Kenora, will take place Sunday morning (Aug. 2). Rev. Dr. C. W. Gordon (Ralph Connor) will give the opening address in the chapel which is a natural cathedral entirely surrounded by high trees and with a doorway of two slender poplar.

The altar is of native stones collected and built by the boys of the Y.M.C.A camp. The entire work of clearing the space was done by a party of 34 boys who arose voluntarily at sun rise last Saturday to construct the altar. 

The entire space is fenced by white birch and will eventually be provided with seats of a rustic nature made of native woods. A communication has been received from the secretary of the camp stating: that all old campers are especially invited to attend the services.

 From the Aug. 5, 1925 edition of the newspaper:

Dedicate New Chapel at Y.M.C.A. Boys' Camp - Place of Worship in Grove of Trees

 A fitting service was held Sunday for the dedication of the outdoor chapel at Camp Stephens, the boys' camp of, the Winnipeg Y.M.C.A. in the Lake of the Woods, near Kenora.

 The chapel is a natural one, being entirely surrounded by massive trees, two of which form the gateway and four of which droop gracefully over the altar of stones. The entire space is enclosed by a white birch fence. Stones from the lake shore mark the various paths. 

 The entire service was conducted by Rev. Dr. C. W. Gordon, which to use his own phrase, "was unique." Fred Hubbard, the associate camp director, read the scripture lesson. A.D. Mitchell lead the reading of the 23rd Psalm.

 Nelson McEwen told his own story of the building of the chapel by the voluntary labor of the boys in the camp; the vision of the use that such a spot could be in the life of the camp as a place where the boys might worship, pray, and think; and where they might learn of the spirit of the camp, the spirit of "help the other fellow." 

 Rev. Dr. A.B. Baird dedicated the chapel. Rev. Dr. Gordon grave the address of the occasion; using the story of the buildling of Jacob's altar as the theme. The altar was unveiled by A.D. Mitchell and Alf McLarnon (who have attended the camp more than any other two). [More about McLarnon later]

 The offering of the morning service will be devoted to a fund to provide a set of chimes for the camp. A large group attended the Sacramental service following the dedication service and several boys made their first public confession of faith. 

 The service was attended by a large number from neighboring islands. 

Two early photos of the current site of the chapel and the upright sailboat.

I have more photos of this history chapel on Flickr. Click here to flip through.

So, one of our first jobs was gathering up and disposing of an old wooden sailboat that had been left to rot between some trees at the chapel off emblem rock. We had no clue why the boat was there. We just hauled it all away. I'm not sure what we did with it. We probably burned it.

In the years since I came to learn that the sailboat had been erected, placed upright, as part of the chapel's pulpit or lectern, several years before the chapel was dedicated in memory of camp cook Alfred Davey in 1966. One photo I have suggests the boat was placed in or about 1947.

I've also been told that he sailboat was erected in the memory of, I believe, two campers who drowned in the boat.

I can tell you now that isn't true.

Or former camp director Doug McEwen, Nelson's son, can:

"The sailboat in the chapel was there when I first attended camp in 1952," Doug says.

"When I worked on plans for the new ‘altar’ (with the granite rock pieces) I tried to find out more about the meaning and got some suggestions that the theme was ‘sailing to the sky’ but I suspect that was largely hearsay.

"We even investigated ways to incorporate the sailboat, but it was in very bad shape by then and we were seeking some permanence in the altar and seating features which also fit into the natural setting better," McEwen says.

"Someone even suggested to me that a camper had drowned in the sailboat, but Rev. Fred Douglas confirmed to me that that tale was spurious."

(Douglas was appointed camp director in May 1951 and served for two summers. He was succeeded by Alex Owen in April 1953.)

In other words, the sailboat was put there more or less as a decoration - nothing more.

However, that's not to say no one has ever drowned at Camp Stephens.

There have been at least two that I could find combing through the Winnipeg Free Press archives. One was a camper and the other a staff member who drowned on a canoe trip.

UPDATE - Drownings:

July 14, 1929: Leslie Brown, 12 

Brown was washed off a sandbar near camp.  A member of the St. Luke Wolf Cubs, his body was recovered two weeks later after washing up on a beach about five kilometres from camp.
He was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery following a service at St. Mary's Church.

June 23, 1934: Alfred McLarnon, 35 

McLarnon (who had helped dedicate the new chapel nine years earlier) and three other men had canoed from camp to Minaki to open a cottage for a friend when they hit choppy water and were quickly overtuned by waves. 
McLarnon, a well-regarded Winnipeg athlete, tried to swim to shore while the others stayed with the canoe.
"He swam part of the way when his horrified companions suddenly saw him throw up his arms and sink," a June 25, 1934 front page story says. "He did not rise again. He was too far away from them to go to his help."
McLarnon drowned within 40 yards of the shore.
McLarnon, a member of the Y.M.C.A., was to begin work at Camp Stephens for the summer in the coming days. He was also president of the Manitoba Amateur Basketball association and was vice-president of the Canadian Amateur Basketball association. He was described as an expert swimmer and canoeist.

The other men were Howard Severson, John Jack and Bert McKinney.
What's follows in Severson's account of what happened in a letter to Fred G. Hubbard, the general secretary of the Y.M.C.A.:

Minaki. Ont., June 24.

Dear Fred: 

You will have received my wire by this time and this will give you all the details of the accident. We left camp Thursday morning about 10. We portaged at Keewatin, had lunch, and then paddled through the Dalles, camping just this side. We arrived at Minaki about 2 Friday afternoon. Alf's reason for making the trip was to help Mrs. F. H. Osborne open her camp at Gunn lake. We met Mrs. Osborne that night and helped open the camp that night and also worked around Saturday morning.

                                Lake Quite Rough 

Saturday afternoon Alf suggested that we paddle into town (Minaki) in the Osborne canoe. The wind was very heavy and the lake quite rough. We started with Alf in the stern, Johnny Jack and Bert Mc-Kinney in the centre and myself in the bow. We took the lea side of two islands but when we came to the last point before the rough water, we changed so that the whole four of us were padding. We headed directly into the waves, but they were so large the we would slip a bit every so ofen. Also, there were cross winds as soon as the wind was broken by some islands which we were heading for. The boat swamped some distance from these islands, leaving the four of us hanging on to the canoe trying to keep it from rolling. For a while Alf's feet were entangled in a fish line which had been in the boat. The line was also entangled in Bert's legs. While freeing himself of the line, I believe Alf swallowed some water. The wind was drifting us very slowly toward an island about half a mile away. We got so that we were holding on to the canoe very well, but the water was so cold and the exertions we were making to keep the canoe steady and to help it along were very tiring to us all. Several times both Johnny and I would ask Alf if he were O.K., but he would not say anything. Bert was in very poor condition, with hisf feet tangled, and was not very hopeful of our condition.

                                 Drifted 45 minutes 

We had drifted for easily three quarters of an hour when the waves rolled the canoe again, putting us all in the water. Alf came up about 10 feet from the boat and appeared to be .swimming toward the approaching shore, which was about 40 yards off. Both Johnny and I yelled at him to come back. He turned around and looked at us, then turned toward shore, then sank. At the time he sank, the canoe was rolling steadily, Johnny was more or less holding Bert and I was steadying the canoe as best I could. Neither of us could have swam to where Alf sank and dived for him as we were entirely exhausted. We touched bottom about seven minutes later as the canoe drifted fast. We then got it on a rock and had to look after Bert, who had lost his reason for the moment. We massaged ourselves to a slight degree of warmth and then looked after Bert, getting him stripped and warm. Johnny and I returned to the beach and searched diligently, but Alf had made no reappearance. For the next two hours we were engaged in trying to find paddles, looking for Alf, and seeing that Bert was all right. We broke into one of the closed cabins and got oars. We found a row boat and eventually went back to Osborne's. We ate, then crossed to Dr. Mann's Island and his boatman took us to town to report the drowning. We notified the local constable. He said he would make dragging arrangements. We then telephoned Mr. Jack and my mother. After a considerable delay we could not get any of Alf's friends in the city, so I phone Joe Millen. This morning we started dragging, but with no results. Operations will continue this afternoon. Alf's brother has been informed by Joe as there is a wire from him today. We will probably return to camp by going up the Winnipeg River in one of the regular launches with run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On arriving at Kenora we will probably paddle to camp, leaving one canoe at Kenora. You will agree that this accident is most regrettable. The three of us feel very sorry, but I do not think that we could do anything more at the time than we did. We will stay at the Osborne's until the body is recovered and arrangements completed.

Yours sincerely,


                          Pays Tribute to Victim

High tribute was paid to thevictim of the fatality by Mr. Hubbard,with whom McLarnon had been actively associated in Y.M.C.A. work.

Mr. Hubbard said: "I was shocked to' hear of his untimely death, and he will be greatly missed at the Y.M.C.A. He was a young man of fine character, and set a splendid example to others. Alf was a member of the Order of the Quest, membership in which is the highest honor that can be paid to any camper at Camp Stephens. He understood, and put into practice the camp motto: 'Help the other fellow.' Both in the Y.M.C.A. and at camp he was always regarded as a willing worker and helper as far as the boys were concerned. He was to have been on the staff of the boys' camp at Camp Stephens this summer, and he will be greatly missed."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Camp boats: Old and new

The good thing about Camp Stephens is that it's on an island.

The bad thing about Camp Stephens is that it's on an island.

In other words, it's its own little world, but you've got to get there. Plus you've got to haul in all that food and lumber and mattresses and paddles whatever else camp needs when it's in session.

Perhaps the most versatile camp boat was the historic Argyle II - a privately-owned tour boat hired by the Y at the beginning and end of each session until the mid-1970s, when the boat was sold to private interests and converted into a cottage.

Over the years it deteriorated and was to be scuttled in September 2007. There are local plans to rebuild it.

Argyle II pulling away from the swim dock in the mid to late 1970s.

Click here to see a full album of camp boats over the generations.

Campers and staff could all get on the Argyle II to get to and from camp. The seven-mile one-way trip took about one hour. Camp's faster boats were outboards mostly used to haul garbage into Kenora or to zip around during sailing to help campers find the wind.

(We used to used to take the Johnson 40 to go water skiing at Scotty's, but that was a long time ago and that would never happen now with camp's fleet of swanky Mercury outboards. Ever, ever, ever.)

There was also the old I/O which served its purpose well as a maintenance boat until it caught fire in Kenora harbour.

The point is, the boats used over the past 124 years are as much a part of camp history than anything else. It's always been a challenge getting to the island, and it's always been a challenge maintaining the boats that camp owned.

The challenge is even greater now. The engines the camp boats use need a lot of specialized care. There are also restrictions on how many campers each boat can carry to and from camp. That means they burn a lot of fuel running back and forth from Kenora.

Why do I know this?

Because Burton Tutt (Boryen) told me over breakfast one day.

Burton has contributed a lot to Camp Stephens over the past 35 years or so, like Lount Lodge and the bathroom and shower facilities to name just two.

Now he has a new assignment, which, typically, he assigned himself.

With the Y's blessing, Burton is exploring the possibility of Camp Stephens "acquiring" a new camp boat, one that he believes would be more fitting to the ethos or character of camp than its flotilla of bare-bone Boston whalers. 

For Burton, camp begins when you get off the bus and get on to the boat, and it ends when you get off the boat at the end of session. In other words, the boat ride ride to and from Copeland Island should be as much about camp as early-morning polar bear swim and late-night cabin camp fires.

For Burton, what happens now for campers is just a quick-turn-around shuttle service. It's fleeting. It's noisy. It's uncomfortable. And it's crummy if it's raining. Getting in and out of the boats at dock isn't easy for anyone, especially little children.

So, Burton is busy talking to Transport Canada about the legal requirements for camp to own and operate its own boat. And there are many. 

Right now he's just doing the research, just seeing what might be possible, what might be affordable, what kind of boats might fit the bill, what might be better than camp's current taxi service.

There is also a possibility (I've underlined that word to stress it) that if he finds something out there that camp could use, he might even build it. 

Which would not be out of character.

The Y's Man at the old camp main dock with George Cooke 1958 or 1959, with Rudy Danzinger and George Cooke in background.

The Neaniskos at dock in Kenora in 1913.

Building the new main dock off the dining hall.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A dream job

Paul Schram and Hadley Burns have been hired by Path of the Paddle to spend 10 weeks canoeing from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Jessica Lake in the Whiteshell, sharing their experiences along the way. Photo by Phil Hossack/Winnipeg Free Press

Paul Schram and Hadley Burns might want to pack a horseshoe and rabbit's foot along with their freeze-dried pineapple and tent to prolong their good luck.

The University of Winnipeg education students landed a summer job most outdoorsy people could only dream about -- paddling a canoe from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Jessica Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park in 10 weeks.

The pair have been hired by Path of the Paddle as trail ambassadors for the canoe-based section of the Trans Canada Trail, which is about 1,000 kilometres long. They plan to launch their canoe in Thunder Bay June 18.

Path of the Paddle is an Ontario-based organization that promotes canoe and kayak routes in northwestern Ontario.

"Our job is to paddle this trail throughout the course of the summer and promote it," Schram said Tuesday. "It's not as remote as what we've done in the past. It's a lot more accessible. But there are a lot of portages. I think we have between 200 and 300 portages on this trip."

Schram, 23, and Burns, 24, are graduates of the YMCA-YWCA's Camp Stephens Wilderness Program. Last summer, each led six-week canoe trips for young men and women.

The route they're paddling is fairly well-established, with campsites and portage routes, compared with canoe trips they've taken on more remote rivers in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

It's the national canoe route of Canada's Trans Canada Trail and there is no land-based trail to hike. It has been dedicated to Canada's First Nations and canoeing icon Bill Mason, and covers 1,000 kilometres starting at Thunder Bay. It follows the Pigeon River and the Gunflint Route to Quetico Wilderness Park and then Atikokan. It then follows the Turtle River waterway system to Dryden through to Kenora, Ont., and finishes along the Winnipeg River system at Jessica Lake.

The route Burns and Schram will be paddling. You can also find maps of specific sections of the route on Path of the Paddle's website. The maps were created by Hap Wilson
They're starting the voyage with 30 days worth of food packed, with planned food pickups in Atikokan, Dryden and Kenora.

Burns said they will use a lightweight Souris River canoe for the trip.

"It sounds kind of intimidating, but when we go to pack it really won't be that much," Burns said. "We're just packing for two."

She said they're experimenting with the menu.

"We've been dehydrating tons of food for the past week," she said. "We've dehydrated tons of pineapple. Another thing we've been able to purchase is a ton of protein bars. We're also taking a lot of protein powder just to supplement being out that long."

Burns said they will be able to take time to explore their surroundings, such as searching out indigenous rock paintings.

"Part of it will be taking the time to appreciate what's around us," she said.

"It will be a new experience for me compared to past trips from Camp Stephens," Schram said. "It's a neat opportunity to see a lot of areas we haven't paddled before. We'll be running into a lot of people along the way, and I think sharing stories and getting to know people out there is something we haven't experienced as much, and something we're both looking forward to."

Schram and Burns will share what they are seeing and experiencing along the way. They will use Spot Connect to obtain satellite service for their smartphones so they can update Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on their progress. They'll also take photographs and shoot video.

Fore more information on the trip, visit: Path of the Paddle

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2015 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bill Alldritt and camp in 1914

Bill Alldritt doesn't strike you as a man who liked to sit still.

William Alldritt in 1910
Alldritt in 1932

He was the director, or manager as it was known then, of Camp Stephens just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

For Alldritt, camp was as big of deal then as it is now.

His story is shared by his grandson Robert. (The Manitoba Historical Society has a brief biography of Bill Alldritt on its website: Memorable Manitobans: William Alexander "Bill" Alldritt (1881-1933)).

"While not a Camp Stephens alumnus myself, it appears that my grandfather William A. Alldritt was camp manager 100 years ago," Robert said in a recent email.

"While doing some research on his World War I involvement, I have come across some cards and some photographs of teams he coached at the Winnipeg Y. I'm not sure if any of the teams were based out of the camp.  

"We have a couple letters from him from the camp dated August 1914, talking about the outbreak of the war," Robert added. "Apparently he was a regular around the Winnipeg Y and was most notably manager of the Winnipeg Toilers basketball team which won national championships in 1926, 1927 and 1932."

The Toilers, which played out of the downtown Y, were at that time almost as famous to Winnipeggers as the NHL Winnipeg Jets are today.

In 1933, the year Alldritt died, the team was flying back to the city after playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The plane crashed on the way home, killing two players and injuring others. Hugh Pennwarden, son of one of the survivors tells his father's story in this video directed by Kevin Nikkel:

Robert Alldritt also sent several photos and documents of his grandfather's time at camp. (To view and read, click to insease size).

"It might be neat to use some of these for the 125th anniversary of the camp," he said.

"I have also included the full application form (posted below; it was a double-sided, fold-out) and a camp postcard from Alldritt to his sister Ethel in August 1914, saying 'war news has us all excited.'

"It's interesting it is addressed to her care of the Winnipeg YWCA.  I also have a brief letter that he wrote to Ethel from Camp Stephens about the same time. It's rather mundane as he suggests what she should do with the family house, implying that he will soon be heading overseas I believe.

"I have also attached a couple more photographs - swimmers on the dock (untitled, but perhaps at Camp Stephens) and some rather smug looking Y athletes. I wonder if the 'K' emblem (on jerseys and ball) might mean Kenora?  I have also attached a team photograph noted on the back as 'International and National Hexathlon Champions March 1928'. This was probably taken at the Winnipeg Y.  

William Alldritt is in the centre wearing sweater.

William Alldritt is in the second row, second from the right.

"In the end, the Y did not send him to the war. He enlisted himself in late September 1914 and was mobilized at Valcartier Quebec," Robert said. "There are some notes that he turned down an officer's commission (he was 33 and a veteran of the South African-2nd Boer War) in order to fight alongside the men he had coached at the Y."

Alldritt was later among the scores of Canadian soldiers injured in German gas attacks in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.

Alfred "Davey" David, the former camp cook, also saw action in WWI at Ypres, and was also gassed and captured. His story is HERE.

Robert said he was at first reported killed in action, but later confirmed to have been captured by the Germans.  He remained a prisoner from April 25, 1915 until the end of the war in 1918.

"In his own words, he was 'persistently unlucky' in his escape attempts," Robert said.

Robert also sent the full application for Camp Stephens when his grandfather was manager before the war, and a photo of the camp boat Neaniskos, a 69-foot, gasoline-powered, 45-horse-power launch.

 What's unkown is whether he returned to camp after the war's end.

Photographer was Carl Linde, known for his early images depicting Lake of the Woods