Our Labor Day “camping gang” has forged special bonds in Algonquin that will never break

It was one of our greatest moments of all time. We had six canoes tied together and, using a strong tailwind and tarps attached to our paddles, we set sail across a wide open lake, lounging and joking in the sun instead of paddling.

By this point, our “camping gang” had been there for years, meeting every Labor Day weekend for a four-day pilgrimage through the woods.

It all started nearly 30 years ago when my dad and three other dads who knew each other as Beaver leaders decided to take their kids canoe-camping on North Tea Lake in Algonquin Park. No moms.

The kids barely paddled, we were scorched by the sun and it rained for the hours it took to get to our site and the rented canoes were constantly on the verge of capsizing despite the weight of all our food and of our equipment.

But the dads bonded through hard work and the kids formed friendships over hilarious jokes – it was the height of comedy when someone slipped off a rickety picnic bench – and soon it was. has become an annual tradition.

Younger siblings began to join us, and for years 14 of us met at the end of every summer to find the perfect patch of wilderness in Algonquin, Temagami and Killarney Provincial Parks.

We weren’t exactly expert campers. We made several trips on each portage, and one kid always seemed to be carrying a single sleeping bag or a grill wrapped in a plastic bag as dads staggered past with canoes hoisted on their shoulders.

We enjoyed finding a campsite, pitching the tents, making a fire to heat up some Hamburger Helper (pre-made and packed in Ziploc bags for our first night’s dinner) and parking there until it was time to return. to cars.

Others broke camp every day and moved on to the next location, but we settled in comfortably. We would greet passing canoeists in torrential rain, happily eating peanut butter from a jar and playing euchre in our tents.

Our day trips always seemed to lead to chaos – a child left behind, a poorly judged circular route abandoned in a hurry to get back to the site before dark, an endless hike up a hill with no water to drink (we blamed the dads for this one, of course) – and we sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” loud and bad around the fire at night.

We were kind of a nightmare, basically.

And it was the best.

We shared endless laughs (and a few trips to the hospital) and savored the time spent in nature.

I loved waking up to the quiet peace of the forest, the taste of instant oatmeal in a plastic bowl, and stepping into a crystal clear lake about to release its summer heat.

Eventually we grew up, went to school, had part-time jobs, boyfriends and girlfriends. We no longer canoe-camp on Labor Day weekend, but the memories of those days keep our group together.

We always get together for the end-of-year celebrations, we attend each other’s weddings en masse and we revel in the births of the next generation of children at the campsite.

We’re also there in the saddest times, coming together to remember our one and only leader, Hawkeye (his beaver leader nickname that stuck) when he died too young.

These bonds were woven outdoors, in the woods and on the water, far from the world.

It’s the kind of experience everyone should have the chance to have, and that’s why the Star’s Fresh Air Fund works every year to help send underprivileged and special-needs children to camp.

This year, I hope you’ll consider helping the Fresh Air Fund reach its goal of raising $650,000 to send more than 25,000 children to overnight and day camps.

Everyone deserves a chance to be a little bad at camping.

If you’ve been touched by the Fresh Air Fund or have a story to tell, email [email protected] or call 416-869-4847.

Christine Dobby writes about business for the Star. She can be reached on Twitter at @christinedobby.

OBJECTIVE: $650,000

With your donation, the Fresh Air Fund can help send underprivileged and special-needs children to camp. These children will have the chance to participate in a camp experience that they will cherish for a lifetime.

How to make a donation

By cheque: Mail to The Toronto Star Fresh, Air Fund, One Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E6

By credit card: Visa, MasterCard or AMEX. Call 416.869.4847

On line: For instant donations, use our secure form at thestar.com/freshairfund.

The Star does not authorize anyone to solicit on its behalf. Tax receipts will be issued.


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Garland K. Long