Toronto

Girl Guides 'heartbroken' as Ontario camps to be sold by 2020

Many members of Girl Guides of Canada say they're heartbroken to learn the organization will be selling its Ontario camps by 2020.

Longtime members remember camp cultivating next generation of young, confident women

Catherine Killen at Doe Lake in the 1990s. (Catherine Killen)

Catherine Killen remembers Doe Lake, about a half hour north of Huntsville, with its yellow docks on the waterfront, outlined by a sandy beach. 

There are walking trails, lookouts on clifftops and two islands, one of which is steeped in camp legend. 

The whole camp gathers for a closing campfire at the waterfront on the last evening of camp each session in the 1990s. (Catherine Killen)

She spent a decade swimming, canoeing and sailing in the waters there in the 1970s and 1980s. Her years at Doe Lake camper made such an impression that she went back as a staff member for another six years. 

In 2004, Killen and her husband made the decision to return to the camp and get married.

Catherine Killen and Karl Baader's wedding at Doe Lake in 2004. (Catherine Killen)

"It was such a special place," she told CBC Toronto, through tears. "When I was a girl at camp, it was freedom to be a girl with other girls. That's something that doesn't happen where the Girl Guides don't control or own the property. We developed a way of doing things because we had a place of our own."

Killen calls the Girl Guides of Canada's decision to sell the 17 Ontario camps by 2020 "heartbreaking," especially since the camp has been a family tradition for generations. 

"My mother attended Doe Lake as a camper," she said. "She went on the first lightweight canoe trip Doe Lake ever offered. There's a long history of girl guides camping in their own way and doing things as women." 

Now, Killen's own daughter spends time as a guide at Doe Lake. 

"You can walk on the trails where hundreds and thousands of campers and staff went before you," she said. 

Charlotte Baader, Catherine Killen's daughter as a brownie at Doe Lake in 2012. (Catherine Killen)

Costs are high

Susan Birnie, the Ontario commissioner for Girl Guides said keeping the properties doesn't make financial sense anymore because the "costs are quite high" to maintain the camps year-round.

Less than half of the organization's camping experiences take place at its own properties, she said. 

But other women like Killen, who spent their childhoods gathered by campfires at sunset, say that shouldn't matter, including Krista Petrie-Wallace. 

She was a camper from the late 1980s and also returned to Doe Lake as staff. 

In an Instagram post, Petrie-Wallace wrote, "I have cried many times this week. Summer camp has given me so much. It has taught me to be physically confident by giving me all sorts of outdoor skills... It gave me social confidence." 

Some camps could be saved

Killen agrees, saying she fondly remembers seeing the girls gain confidence from learning life skills while she was a staff member.

"Seeing a switch from being part of the everyday world to becoming self-reliant was pretty amazing," she said. 

Pipers Hill camp, about 20 minutes east of Orangeville, is the first to close Friday. The organization will sell off the others as it partners with third-party sites. 

The Ontario Guides of Canada says it may reverse its decision to close some camps if it's able to improve its financial situation. 

Killen said she and other former girl guides are looking to make that happen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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