Epilogue

With the conclusion of the 50 stories in 50 days to celebrate 50 years at Hart Lake, we have one more story to share. During this project we lost an integral member of our community, Randy Leamen – Mr. Canoehead himself. Mr. Canoehead was a force of nature and big reason why so many of the stories shared these past 50 days are filled with memories of finding a place to be yourself. For he was truly an original, and someone who inspired courage and confidence in others to be themselves – to the point it became the accepted norm at Camp, and thinking or believing otherwise almost becomes impossible. There will never be another Mr. Canoehead, but his Spirit lives on in the Spirit of Camp Big Canoe. Thank you Randy.

My dad really wanted to write a submission for the 50 stories for the 50th anniversary campaign. He only got a couple sentences written, and I have been dragging my feet to finish the story without him, but here is a little something:

Randy Leamen felt very honoured to be able come up to Big Canoe for 25 years and be Mr. Canoehead, a role he thoroughly enjoyed. By being a character, he was allowed to react to the campers in various ways – more of a clown or court jester than a serious adult.

That was as far as he got. The rest I am going to write on his behalf from my own observations.

As many people have said, Camp Big Canoe is a place for people to be their most authentic selves – it doesn’t matter what your job is, what car you drive, what type of clothes you wear, who your friends are, or any of those societal pressures or metrics for who someone is. PeeWee Camp is a bubble of freedom from the real world. Knowing that Randy/Dad’s real life job as an RCMP officer was very steeped in harsh real world, I can appreciate why Mr. Canoehead was such a joy for him – freedom from the pressure of protecting the country, a place to celebrate all the things worth protecting like a place where kids can be innocent, curious, imaginative, adventurous, independent, safe and outside-their-comfort-zone kids (no TVs or screen time as big bonus). Not to mention there is something wonderfully theraputic (says me) about how the world is righted by the end of Special Day and bad guys either repent or are pushed in the lake. If only all life’s problems were so easily dealt with!

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Some of the best things about PeeWee Camp for Mr. Canoehead:
*Nature providing solace for the soul, scope for the imagination and a backdrop for adventure
*Music pretty much all day long
*Built in audiences – for anyone who loves performing and entertaining others as Mr. Canoehead most definitely did, there are 5 million opportunities to do so in 5 short days: campfires, skits, morning watch, bedtime stories, Special Day, late-night staff fires, etc. This isn’t so much an ego thing about having people to applaud you as it is 5 million opportunities to give joy and laughter to the people around you.
*Sharing knowledge – Dad loved to learn and he was a walking encyclopedia of facts and stories. He was always very happy to pass those along to others (especially the young kids who are not yet too cool for school or full of attitude like the teens he raised or taught through scouting).
*Traditions – The world may be changing and our own lives change so much, but it always feels like home to go back to Camp and know Brown Squirrel is waiting for you and there are all the hugs and high fives you could possibly need.
*Humour – you have to have a sense of humour to volunteer your vacation days to spend a long weekend chasing after energetic, high pitched kids who aren’t necessarily your own. Also, there is always so much laughing at camp! Practically it’s own comedy club…
*And most importantly on the canoe beach: Letting kids be fearful and fearless

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Mr. Canoehead took great pleasure in administering Dunk Tests – a rite of passage where kids were purposely tipped in a kayak (next to the dock) to make sure they could get out in case of emergency before they were allowed out on the lake by themselves. Although the kids are so tiny they usually fall out before the kayak is even half tipped over, it is a moment of terror followed swiftly by pride and victory when they realize they could do it and Mr. Canoehead had the patience, compassion and persistence to guide every kid in the camp through that rite. Frequently, kids are told all the things they can’t do because they are too young, too small, or its too dangerous. At PeeWee camp, Mr. Canoehead loved proving to them all the things they could do and that many things are only dangerous if you don’t listen to instructions and act like a bonehead.

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If you think about it, overnight camp in general is a whole lot of scary things that kids learn to be brave about: homesickness, the dark, leeches in the lake, tipping a boat, bugs and bullfrogs, unknown foods for picky eaters, making new friends, thunderstorms outside your canvas tent, out-trip, the embarrassment of singing in front of the whole camp… the list goes on. Camp Big Canoe takes all these scary things, acknowledges them and turns them into exciting adventures, traditions and celebrations that empower kids to take risks and give them room to grow. As Mr. Canoehead, Dad had a front-row seat to teach, tease and tip kids over their fear and into fearlessness.

As he said, he was honoured to fill that role.

(written by Mr. Canoehead’s daughter, Katie)

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Author Bio

Camp Big Canoe is a not-for-profit overnight recreational camp for kids ages 6-16 in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada

2 Comments

  1. Lynne - July 1, 2017

    Oh My Katie, This tribute is so infused with love and joy and fun,
    Just like your dad, I am sure. How I would have overcome my fears at that camp!
    Lots of Love, Lynnie

  2. Gail White - July 2, 2017

    That is a beautiful story, thank you for finishing it for your father. My darling daughter, loved camp, and is now greeting your Dad in the great big camp in Heaven. I believe she loved camp about as much as all of you and I thank all of you for making it so special to her. Love and blessings, Gail White

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