Citronella, Morning Watch and eating meals in a large tent – these are a few of the memories of the first campers who in 1931 went to the camp organised by the York County Boys’ Work Board then named, Camp Ahshunyoong. This camp was situated at Duclos Point on Lake Simcoe. From the very beginning, short camps with impact and vitality were held and they strongly influenced the lives of hundreds of young people from York County.
An unbearable number of mosquitoes soon required a move to another site and Georgina Island was chosen in hopes the breeze would lessen the insect population. Georgina Island is a reserve for the Ojibwa First Nation and, with the assistance of Chief Lorenzo Big Canoe, the campers, their luggage, food and supplies was transported to and from the mainland throughout the summer sessions. The name given to the camp was Ahshunyoong; this means “bright” or “shining” in the Ojibwa language.
Transportation problems finally became too unwieldy and a further move to Sibbald’s Point was made. Then in 1946 a property was purchased at McRae Beach on the south shore of Lake Simcoe. Along with the mainland children, campers from Georgina Island continued to come to Ahshunyoong. The camp remained at this location until safety on the waterfront was threatened by numerous motorboats and water skiers, and the development of the surrounding areas impinged on program activities.
In 1965, ownership was transferred to the Toronto United Church Council and Camp Ashhunyoong was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. The new Board of Directors, together with Toronto United Church Council, decided the sell the Lake Simcoe site, look for new property and develop a camp program with more opportunities for “campy” outdoor activities.
In 1968 Camp Big Canoe, on a new site at Hart Lake near Bracebridge, was officially opened and in 1970 the camp received accreditation from the Ontario Camping Association, which it has held ever since. Chief Big Canoe lit the opening campfire and, because of the long and important association with the Big Canoe family, knowledge of native spirituality is now a valued part of the program.
In 1992, the 25th Anniversary was held at the camp Open House on September 19. Once again the Big Canoe family was represented. Two of the children of Chief Lorenzo Big Canoe, Wanda and Albert, lit the campfire and extended good wishes for the next 25 years.
In 1998 a modern kitchen, pantry, walk-in freezer and refrigerator, a trip room, and a spacious deck overlooking the lake were added to the Lodge. In 2001 a very welcome, updated washroom was built on the site of the old “Elephants”, which were relocated and renovated into the ARC, the home of our Music & Drama program. In 2011, an addition was added to the Nurse’s Cabin and in 2012 a new maintenance and storage building, known as the Marn, was constructed. Camp Big Canoe continues to influence the Christian development of the youth who come to learn about camping and the environment in the beautiful hardwood forest.