Long Days, Short Summer: A Jam-Packed Summer at Canterbury Hills Camp

 on November 20, 2023

As a camp director there are a number of phrases that I repeat often throughout the summer: “remember to reapply sunscreen,” “please put the slip and slide away after using it,” “yes, of course, I have a pen that you can borrow” are mantras I know that staff and campers alike can attest to having heard from me. And the phrase that I use most often to capture the essence of what it feels like to spend a summer at camp: “long days, short summer”.

Every day at camp is jam packed with adventure, excitement, and activity. In 2023 we had 120 campers on-site each week, an excellent group of leaders-in-training, and a fantastic staff team of 39. As you can imagine, a group of about 165 young people living in a community makes for a busy space. The raucous sounds of play, laughter, and conversation buzz as we bring meal times, campfires, “whole camp” games, and unit group schedules into harmony. In the moment, busy camp days feel vibrant and full—a week stretches forth full of possibility, and magical moments feel suspended in time.

Then, all too soon and in the blink of an eye, September comes and I sit reflecting on the whirlwind of another transformative summer. There is so much to say about the summer of 2023 at Canterbury Hills and in many ways it is difficult to convey the enormity of the experience. I am someone who loves both numbers and stories and I will aim to use both as tools to offer a glance into our summer experience.

For the number-loving among us, summer 2023 included: We offered eight weeks of day camp, seven weeks of overnight camp, six weeks of our Leaderin- Training (LIT) program, four weeks of bridge camp, and two weeks of adventure camp. This is the second summer that we have run five concurrent programs since the introduction of bridge camp in 2023. We increased our bridge camp offerings from two to four weeks this summer and more than doubled our available bridge camp spaces. Bridge camp spots still filled within 24 hours of registration opening and we hope to offer the program for the full summer in 2024. Day camp continued to be an incredibly popular offering. We introduced two new day camp gazebo group spaces this year to help increase the number of day camp groups and meet the demands of a long waiting list. Overnight camp filled to 102 per cent capacity thanks to the help of some cleverly placed cots.

In total we welcomed 992 campers across eight weeks of camp programming. This was a tremendous success bringing us back to and beyond prepandemic registration numbers. We are excited to continue to find ways to increase our capacity and open the doors to Canterbury Hills to even more campers next summer.

And for those who love a good story, I had trouble narrowing down my favourites, but I have settled upon one that I think captures the spirit of our mission beautifully.

Adventure camp is a program for 13- to 15-year-olds that includes a three-day paddling trip along the Grand River. For our July week of adventure camp we had eight boys and one girl registered. Her family debated sending her on the trip but the camper was determined to try. She specifically reflected that she had signed up adventure camp because it was something outside her comfort zone and being the only girl didn’t change her goal of challenging herself. Adventure camp set off and her mom made it clear that she could be picked up any time if she changed her mind. Happily, a pick up was not necessary. In fact, this camper thrived throughout the week, beginning as a shy and quiet participant with very limited paddling experience and growing into a vocal leader among the group who led the canoe pack on numerous occasions. “Adventure camp was really hard work but a good kind [of work]. It was so much fun” she wrote after the trip finished. As she packed up to leave she mentioned that she was ready for “a shower and lots of sleep. Oh and also, is it too late to be part of the LIT program?” She left on Friday night and was back on Monday morning to start the three week August LIT program.

That’s the summer camp experience in a nutshell. Choosing to take on challenges, working hard, having fun, and coming out of it more confident and excited for what is next.

Moments such as these, of growth and transformation are abundant throughout our summer at Canterbury Hills.

It takes a tremendous amount of commitment, passion, and certainly some sleep deprivation to pull off a summer program that serves the needs of so many. I want to thank in particular the 2023 summer camp staff who worked long days joyfully, the kitchen staff who kept our bodies nourished and energized, the senior Resource Team who acted as mentors, innovators, and role models, the board of directors who made sure we were supported in our mission, the many clergy members who offered their wisdoms during weekly Eucharist services, Bishop Susan Bell who made sure we had all we needed to succeed, and of course God our father without whom we would not have this beautiful place filled with miraculous people. I am so honoured to get to serve in this role and I look forward to another fantastic summer to come in 2024. Thanks be to God.

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