by Nikki Risk – Camper 1994-1997; Staff 1998-2000, 2005-2006
I was not supposed to be a Camp Big Canoe Camper. Back in 1994 my parents didn’t have the money to send my sister and I to overnight camp, but my mother was an active member of the Richmond Hill United Church who regularly sponsored two kids to go for a session each summer. Apparently the kids who were supposed to go that year cancelled at the last minute, and they were having trouble filling the spots on such short notice. Two other church families passed on the opportunity, and so my mother was approached. She immediately said yes, and within a few weeks, my sister and I were on the bus to Bracebridge. We had a wonderful experience, and upon our return begged my parents to go back the next year. They scrimped and saved, and sent us back for the next 3 summers, until I became old enough to apply for a job on staff.
That was the year that Bill Stevens took over as director, and I was lucky enough to land a position as a counsellor. It was one of the best summers of my life, and I returned for the next two years to work on the waterfront. Following university, as I was trying to figure out my life’s direction, I returned for two more summers which helped me prepare for teacher’s college. Over ten years later, I can still remember the feeling of driving along Fraserburg Road on Sunday nights to prepare for another session. I remember the music, the games, the campfires, the incredible people that I got to meet, and of course, the campgrounds. I bet I could still walk the path from Turtle’s Nest to the Craft Cabin with my eyes closed.
So where does the toe ring come in? Well in 1999, in my second year on staff, I bought a sterling silver toe ring to match that of a fellow staff member, and wore it all summer long. It was a pain to clean under and around, especially with all of the sand on the waterfront, but I loved it and decided that it was my personal Big Canoe momento – something that would stay with me and remind me of camp wherever I went. I put that ring on my toe almost 19 summers ago, and it’s still there. It’s been pinched countless times in ski boots and uncomfortable shoes, stomped on in numerous sports activities, and stepped on by hundreds of elementary students; and yet, it’s still there. It’s extremely brittle now, and I know that one day it will likely just fall off as I’m walking or cleaning it, but until that time comes, I’m keeping it there. When I look at it, it brings me right back to Hart Lake and Camp Big Canoe. I know that’s weird for a toe ring, but for a kid who wasn’t supposed to go to overnight camp, I think it’s a pretty awesome keepsake.