by Scott Purvis – Volunteer 1998-??

In the summer of 1998 I got the call. Bill needed a favour. I owed Bill.

He was the man who introduced me to my wife…
He was the best man at our wedding…
He was my mentor…

So when Bill calls…you answer.

Bill needed me to fill in for a session as a counsellor. It had been a long time since I had worked as a counsellor but I figured it must be just like riding a bike. So, I loaded up the truck, kissed my wife and newborn son and made my way to Camp Big Canoe.

It is a bit of a challenge having worked at other camps and walking into a new one. Each camp has its own traditions and culture and you bring a piece of each camp experience to the next one. The trick is to take those past experiences, combine them with the new culture and make something that is your own.

This process started for me pretty quickly at Big Canoe. Bill very wisely had paired me with John Dinner. John was also new to Big Canoe and was also on the older end of the staff demographic. We were going to be tentmates.

“I’m Unit 7 and you’re Unit 8” John described.

“What’s a Unit?” I thought “and what’s with the numbers?”

John explained that this was the way they divided up their camper groups and how they take attendance at various activities during camp.

“So are we together during the activities?” I asked.

John nodded.

“So…why don’t we just call ourselves Unit 15?”

And thus Unit 15 was born. During role call for the next two weeks the poor senior staff called in vain for Unit 7 and Unit 8 during morning watch, during mealtimes, during all camp activities and during evening program only to be met with silence. It wasn’t until they reluctantly asked if “Unit 15” was present that our campers would explode in thunderous response truly believing this was the funniest thing ever.


Unit 15 – Session 2, 1998

As the days passed, John and I noticed one of our campers was consistently wearing a pair of bright yellow rubber boots. Pyjamas and yellow rubber boots. Shorts and yellow rubber boots. Bathing suit and yellow rubber boots. Morning or night, rain or shine, wet or dry this kid was rockin’ his vulcanized fashion statement. John and I became concerned that maybe this kid had lost his shoes or maybe he had gotten them wet and they hadn’t dried properly? Finally we decided it was time to ask him why he was wearing the boots. His answer was simple and perfect at the same time…

“Because I like them and I can.”

For me this kid’s answer to our question summed up what Camp Big Canoe was all about. It was a place where people could be who they wanted to be. It was a place where people were encouraged to be who they wanted to be. It was a place where people were confident to be who they wanted to be.

As a parent who has sent that newborn son, and his sister to Big Canoe, I know it still is.

Camp Big Canoe

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

1 Comment

Mike Smith · June 24, 2017 at 9:20 pm

This was beautiful Scott! What an awesome summer that was! Still remember that kids name, and one of the staff from that year actually named their first born after him!

I miss that place!

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