A yellow school bus rolled into a northeast Edmonton Costco parking lot on a hot and sunny July afternoon to transport 15 adventurous teens from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Congolese, Sudanese and Syrian, to Base Camp. Some of the campers excitedly greeted friends from previous years, while six campers anxiously awaited their first taste of the Edmonton diocese’s annual summer camp. The bus was running behind schedule which made for an extra-long, but definitely worthwhile wait to begin their two-and-a-half-hour journey northeast of the city to Lac La Biche.
Rolling into Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park and spilling off the bus, campers quickly transformed our group camping site into a hive of activity: unloading the bus in record time and lifting canoes and kayaks down from trailers. The campers were divided into three groups and set out to find a location to pitch their tents. The first group claimed a spot on a wide trail behind the cook house. Group Two (AKA “The Boys”) pitched their tent on a patch of green grass closest to the lake. This low spot provided ready water access but, later in the week when the campsite was hit with torrential rains, members of the group needed all hands on deck to construct a canal to divert the water flow. Undeterred by a few broken tent poles, “The Sardines,” as they christened themselves, packed into the third tent. Ironically, their tent stayed the driest when rain soaked our camp.
While campers staked out prime real estate for their outdoor homes, staff readied the rest of the site for a week of fun. Greg Aylard organized the kitchen, and managed the cooking until our seasoned camp cook Susan Daniel was able to arrive. We all appreciated the time she had spent organising and preparing meals weeks in advance.
Settling in over the next few days, we placed a review of our camp rules: love God, love your neighbour, and love yourself at the top of our agenda. We had conversations about God, learned to canoe and played music together. Every camper received ukulele lessons from Ian Bowden who has accompanied us as camp music director for the past two years. There was also plenty of time for arts and crafts projects tailored to our camp theme: “Mary Poppins”; Game of Life (how to deal with bullying and teasing); exploring the woods; and teamwork challenges. We hiked around the island (William Churchill is the only island provincial park in Alberta) to the Long Point Trail. When our way was blocked by towering nettles we headed, unfazed, back to the beach for a swim.
Still early in the week, we set off in kayaks or canoes for Currant Island. Paddling around to the beaches on the east side of the park for lunch, we then crossed open water and our efforts were rewarded with a sliver of a sandy beach on the west side. Exploration of the island was limited by thick brush and more nettles! However, we did see an abundance of pelican, terns, loons, and seagulls.
After dinner back at Base Camp, a storm rolled in bringing lightning, thunder, high winds and pouring rain. Water flowed steadily across the open area in the middle of our campsite (and down to the boys’ tent!). The next morning campers hung soggy sleeping bags in the cookhouse to dry. We would need to make a visit to the local Laundromat to dry them completely.
Despite the rain, spirits remained high through the next two days, as we adjusted our program to make use of the indoor spaces available to us. Campers enthusiastically participated in activities and games in and around the cookhouse and did not let the weather slow them down. Campfire time moved indoors (delicious S’mores, Susan!), where we sang about rain, storm, fire and wind (Kumbaya!); ending every evening with compline, often by candlelight. Somehow we managed to find time to silkscreen David Daniel’s design onto bright red t-shirts- for campers and staff at the end of the week.
Our chaplain, the Rev. Heather Liddell, inspired us to take up a lip-synching video challenge she had received from a camp in Colorado. With minimal direction, campers rehearsed, produced and filmed a music video in the cookhouse!
The week ended too quickly! On Friday we broke down the camp and celebrated a eucharist by the lake. As we gathered, pelicans and flocks of cormorants flew overhead. We played ukuleles in accompaniment to our camp songs, and offered up in prayer the stones we had collected to signify our troubles and burdens. Following the service, we loaded up the yellow school bus, posed for a group picture, and then headed into Lac La Biche for pizza and our traditional awards presentation.
It was a wonderful week with a great group of staff that also included: Emily Walker, Leah Marshall, Jamie Sherburne and Emily Stephen-Garneau. Submitted by Mark Armstrong, Base Camp Director