by Zach Mills – Camper 2000-2006, Staff 2007-2012

Whenever I think about camp it is an overwhelming rush of emotions and memories almost too hard to take in for its sheer volume. Countless happy memories, silly memories, life lessons learned, and emotions ranging the full spectrum, helping me ground camp as such a meaningful place.

I first arrived at CBC summer of 2000 for PeeWee camp (the year of the flood) as a deer in headlights 9 year old, and I knew I had found something special. I begged my parents to send me back to two weeks of camp of the following year, and that started a 13-summer long trend of time at CBC. I tallied it up one time and I have spent well over a year of my life physically at CBC, and I would do it all over again given the chance.

Given all that camp has meant to me, it was hard to pick just one memory, but one in particular that sticks out to me was what I would describe as the best (although objectively it was likely the worst) canoe trip I ever went on. In hindsight I look back on it as one of my favourite camp memories, but at the time it likely could have been summed up by Murphy’s law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

Now I preface this story by saying that everyone in this story was entirely safe and uninjured, so in that sense not everything went wrong, but in a comical sense, just about everything else did.

The trip was supposed to be an easy 3-day trip down the South Muskoka (a classic CBC trip) with senior campers. I was the counsellor for the boys, Helen Gray was the counsellor for the girls, and Joanne Clark was the tripper. In the days leading up to this trip there had been an unusual amount of rain and so as we would find out, the river was quite a bit higher than usual.

The first mishap of our trip happened not 10 minutes down the river when one of my campers raised his arm for some reason and unexplainably the strap on his life jacket ripped (I still don’t understand how that happened). So I traded life jackets with him and on we went (later down the river a staff member drove and met us to give me a new life jacket), unaware that what had happened was an omen of things to come.

A little later down the river we came to what is usually a calm spot in the river, but because of the extra water was some swifts. Myself and the camper in the bow were the first to go down and the biggest obstacle to avoid was a tree with an outstretched thick branch that you had to at first point towards, but then sharply steer around. As we headed towards the branch we tried to steer around but couldn’t quite make it. Thankfully the camper was small enough to duck under, but I was not so it caught me square in the chest and ended up flipping our canoe. We managed to collect all of our gear at the end of the swift, but after seeing our mishap the rest of the group decided to go along the shore and walk and line the canoes through. All of that took about half an hour and so the camper and I decided to float in the river with our tipped canoe and made friends with a crayfish who had floated into our canoe.

A little later down the river we came a sharp 90 degree bend that had also become swifts because of the all the rain. We approached the bend carefully and ended up going ashore on the far bank just before the bend realizing the water was too swift to take the canoes down. After surveying the situation we decided the best thing to do was to go across to the near bank where there was a clearing where we could portage the canoes past the swifts. Since the river was so strong though we needed staff in the bow and stern to be able to cross back up the river a little to the near bank, so Joanne and I had to paddle each canoe across loaded with campers and stuff in the middle, and then swim back to the far bank to grab another canoe. Unfortunately, after getting 2 of our 6 canoes across it started to rain and then thunder so we couldn’t get back in the water. Those on the close bank were under trees, but those of us on the far bank we out in the open and it started to rain harder. So we decided to get out a kitchen tarp and I wrapped it around my shoulder and arms (like and outstretched cape) and the campers huddled underneath to stay dry. Finally, the rain/thunder stopped and were able to complete the crossing/portage.

We made it that night to the Cook’s Falls campsite, tired after a full day, but still in high spirits. Apparently we were not the only ones that had had trouble that day, as just after dinner a duffle bag full of somebodies stuff came floating down the falls (the person/s never came after it).

The next day the sun came out and so we had high hopes for the day. Midway through the day (just before lunch) we came to what ended up being two portages, one after another because of the high water. We got the whole group through the first portage and were sending Canoes through to the second when despite the sun being out there was thunder. So the group was split up, half at one portage and half at the next about 50M downstream. Unfortunately the thunder kept up for over 2 hours so we had to have lunch at our respective portages. What we learned though was the group that had gone to the second portage had 2 of the 3 food barrels including the PB & J supplies for lunch. Our group had the emptiest of the three barrels and all we had was tortillas, butter, and small amount of brown sugar leftover from the night before. So we had buttered tortillas for lunch, with a tiny sprinkling of sugar.

When finally the thunder cleared, we all got through the second portage and decided it was time for a well needed swim.

We arrived that evening at May Chutes and everything seemed to be going normally until down the path that lead up to the road came a car (which is no easy feat as it is really more of a walking path). We politely let them know that we were there for the night and they drove off (although again I am impressed they were able to make it down and back up).

We arrived back at camp the next day exhausted, and ready to shower and take naps. Right as we thought the trip was over, one of my boys came up to me and informed me that he and two other boys had gone exploring while at the buttered tortilla portage. It turns out that while they were exploring they had apparently found poison ivy and their legs were all red and covered in hives (it had taken a day for the reaction to sink in). We sent them to the nurses and had to smile that Murphy’s law had gotten in one last jab at our hapless canoe trip.

Despite all of the mishaps, looking back this is still one of my treasured camp memories as we overcame all the trip threw at us and still managed to have a blast!

Camp Big Canoe

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


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