As boys and girls growing up over the years in and around Ponoka and all communities I am sure that among the most cherished memories of those hot July’s and August’s was of heading off to summer camps with old and new friends. It was that most amazing chance to let loose and leave home for a week or two, to get away from our pesky brothers and sisters, and to enjoy a most unique and exciting opportunity to venture out and learn about the natural wonders of our great outdoors.
I am sure that somewhere during our active lifetimes, no matter what age we might be now, we will fondly remember our youthful adventures at a summer camp, whether it be with our church or school or club or with such longstanding organizations as the Cubs, Rovers, Scouts, Beavers, Brownies, Guides, Air Cadets, 4-H, Fish and Wildlife, sports, and all the rest. This week I would love to share some of my best and vivid memories of summer camps, some that all the boys and girls of yesterday and today will never forget, especially all the friends, the joys, the keen camaraderie and team work, and the wild and wonderful experiences that we shared together along the way.
Most of the lakes in the area are surrounded by various church and special needs camps, some which operate all year round, while others are just in the summer. It was always there in those faithful and friendly surroundings that thousands of boys and girls have had a busy and fun-week of learning about the bible, doing crafts, playing games, a surprise treat day on the bus, and all sorts of water sports. We got to sleep on bunk beds in little cabins, looked forward to putting on a pageant for our families on the going home Sunday, and over the years many of those happy campers come back to serve as councillors or volunteers.
One of the biggest summer thrills for boys and later girls has been for decades to attend various Air Cadet Camps across our province and beyond. It was at these very busy training and fun sessions that participants have the unique opportunity of taking part in lots of sports and social events, as well as getting the thrill of flying in a plane, firing a rifle, sleeping in a barracks together, along with lots and lots of drills and marching, and so much more. Strict and standard rules that we all had to follow at each ACC included keeping your uniforms neat and clean, shoes shined, and hair short, making your own beds so tight and tidy that you can bounce a quarter on the top, and to never be late for meals.
There were so many of us who went out to the Camp of the Woods at Sylvan Lake or elsewhere in the summer for their annual Cub and Scout activities. We slept in open front wooden lean-twos on a hill that overlooked the lake, and would never forget those nights of the big storms, winds, and hail when we all had to pull our sleeping bags over our heads and giggled and shook a lot. Way back then if one had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night you encouraged a buddy to go with you to those dark and cold outdoor two or four hole outhouses in the woods. Early in the morning we got rousted out of our beds by our leaders, had to wash up and practise our daily hygiene habits, which always included mom’s strict rule of putting on a new pair of underwear. After all that we dashed over to the big hall by 8 a.m. for a yummy breakfast, which was quickly served by those nice ladies and volunteers, who also fixed up all of our bruises, bites, and scratches throughout the week. During the day we got close and personal with nature, wandered through the woods, went on scavenger hunts, followed animal tracks, picked berries, and were taught how important it was to protect and respect the wonders of nature, while staying away from poison ivy, wasp nests, ant hills, and skunks. In between games, swimming, and boating we worked hard to earn our badges, discovering how to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, carved whistles and woggles out of a tree branch, practiced first aid on each other while learning how to get along and share. As a daily bonus we got to spend our meagre camp allowance on treats at the camp canteen. We may have got a little homesick on the first night, but we cried ourselves to sleep and then spent the rest of the week being really busy from dawn until dusk, hanging out with our designated six-pack, made new friends from near and far. Each and every night we got to gather around a roaring campfire, roasting marshmallows, sharing scary tales, and singing loud enough to encourage all the local coyotes to join in. There was always lots of fun pranks among buddies during the week, but if we broke the rules there was always lots of dishes to do and floors to sweep. All of us boys knew that there was a Girl Guides and Brownies around the corner, but that was strictly out-of-bounds, except for the supervised social group events.
Hopefully over the years most everyone has had the unique, joyful, and amazing experience of taking part in summer youth or family camps throughout our great province and beyond. If we wish to give our children, grandchildren, family, and friends this exciting and traditional opportunity please check out your local media outlets, churches, and organizations to see what is available for you and yours this summer of 2019. Here comes the sun, so get right into the groove at your favourite pace and have a great week, all of you.