Camp Awakening provides integrated summer camp, leadership, and outdoor recreation programs for children and youth with physical disabilities. Our goal is to create a fun, safe and supportive environment where campers can increase independence, learn new skills, develop confidence, and make lasting friendships.
Though Camp Awakening was formally established in the fall of 1982, the idea to create a special program for children with disabilities was actually conceived back in the late 1970's. At that time, Joan Cameron, Lois McLaughlin, Iain MacInnis and I (Harry McMurtry) flirted with the idea of founding an alternative camping program for children with disabilities who were not being challenged by existing camping or recreational programs. We felt that outdoor camping, particularly canoe tripping, was an area that was ripe for cultivation. People with disabilities simply did not have proper access to the natural wonders, which lay beyond the concrete of the city.
A six-page proposal was prepared and presented to John R. Latimer, a highly respected member of the camping community, in October of 1982. Two weeks later, after reviewing the proposal, Mr. Latimer offered his camp (Kilcoo Camp) as a base site for our program. We gladly accepted his surprise offer, though we were disappointed that we had to modify our original goal of catering to both boys and girls. In 1989, Camp Awakening opened a girls' program at Camp Gay Venture under the direction of Marjorie "Skip" Kirkpatrick and Sarah Macrae.
[Since the closing of Camp GV in 2001, the girls' program has operated within Camp Oconto in eastern Ontario.]
In January of 1983, the Camp was incorporated. We received a charitable registration number from the Canada Revenue Agency later that spring. Lois agreed to direct the program, and Joan and I recruited Iain to join the three of us on staff. The first directors of the corporation were John R. Latimer, Rodney Hull, and Mary Louise Dickson, all instrumental figures in the camp's formative years, as was my father, Roy McMurtry.
In 1983, twelve boys attended two sessions at the Camp. Each session was thirteen days in length.
Camp Awakening was born out of a belief that young people with physical disabilities could profit from a more rigorous summer camping experience. The founders envisaged tremendous benefits for participants exhibiting a wide range of disabilities. But as planning progressed, and the program philosophy evolved, it became evident that the Camp would only be able to serve a specific population. In the end, the Camp would cater to teenagers with a physical disability who were independent in all - or virtually all - aspects of daily living.
From the outset, the principal objective of the Camp was the establishment of a wilderness canoe-tripping program. As a result, tripping dominated the first summer at Awakening. Canoe tripping proved to be an excellent activity, and while it continued - and continues - to be the mainstay and focus of the Camp, greater emphasis was placed on integration and in-camp activities in the second summer.
The philosophy of Camp Awakening incorporates the idea, "No wall is too high to scale, but sometimes a ladder would help!" Whether crossing a rugged portage or a windy lake, Awakening campers have demonstrated their mettle. The achievements of these boys and girls are evidence of the indomitable human spirit and speak volumes of the potential of people with physical disabilities.
Harry W. McMurtry