Defining Camp

Lisa SandhamBayview Magazine Summer 2009

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines ‘camp’ as “a place usually away from urban areas where tents or simple buildings (as cabins) are erected for shelter or for temporary residence (as for laborers, prisoners, or vacationers)”. To those of us who live, work and play in Northwestern Ontario the definition of ‘camp’ is uniquely ours. Its meaning varies greatly from one individual to another and it reveals a significant part of our local culture, defining a set of shared values, conventions and social practices.
Thunder Bay has a proud history that is intertwined with our natural environment. Our community was established on an economic base that revolved around the fur trade, mining and forestry.

These industries contributed to the development of our vibrant community and played a key role in establishing a local culture that values the splendors of Mother Nature and connecting with her. We connect to our surroundings in various ways but one of the most loved traditions in Thunder Bay is ‘to camp’.

‘To camp’ or ‘Go camping’ can involve pitching a tent in a provincial park, towing the trailer to a picturesque lake, spending time at a family property or enjoying one of the many vacation resort properties scattered throughout Northwestern Ontario. We are blessed to be surrounded by a vast array of lakes, waterways and scenic views. A 30 minute drive in any direction will lead you to some of the most picturesque views in the world.

In Northwestern Ontario we do not have ‘cottages’ or ‘lake houses’. We have ‘camps’. Mention the word ‘camp’ to anyone who lives in Thunder Bay and you are surely guaranteed a smile followed by some very entertaining stories. These stories often have a theme which revolves around family, friends and animal alike. We have all heard about the ‘big one that got away’ or how ‘our dog had his first encounter with a skunk’.
I have always been fascinated by these stories but especially intrigued by those that revolve around family heritage properties.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have had ‘camp’ running through their veins since birth. Cherished parcels of land passed down from one generation to the next, rich in both historical and genealogical significance. To these families their properties are so much more than ‘just a piece of land’. These properties are considered sacred, a special place of importance that has been intricately woven into the fabric of their family history. It is a place where the family gathers to celebrate a marriage or a birth, to mourn the loss of a loved one, to entertain family and friends or to simply get away from the rigors of daily life. It is part of their genetic makeup and they simply could not imagine spending a summer anywhere else.

We live in a world that is racing along at the speed of light. We are working harder, longer and taking less vacation time. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives we often forget to stop, take a breath and connect with our surroundings. When our lives become complicated we naturally gravitate toward a tranquil spot to reflect. We are drawn to the water’s edge, we stand in awe of our majestic landscapes and for a brief moment in time we choose to live in the moment.

Northwestern Ontario has been a source of inspiration for many writers, photographers and painters. This summer let nature be your inspiration. Whether you own your property, rent or partake of the generosity of friends, make the outdoors your destination. Create your own definition of ‘camp’ and build memories that will last a lifetime.

Lisa Sandham is an interior designer and home designer and freelance writer who lives and works in Thunder Bay.