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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.