Camping in the Forties

The nineteen-forties presented many problems in the operation of the camp. The Y.M.C.A. was strongly involved in the war effort around the world. The goal was to assist service men in every way possible and to provide for the many young boys whose fathers were away. It was difficult to operate due to shortages of leaders and materials. But operate they did.

By 1940 camp capacity was up to one hundred and twenty boys per period in nineteen teepees.

Ray Fairbairn writes of the time early in the war:

I was Director in 1939-41, having assumed that responsibility when Murdoch Keith returned to Eastern Canada. As a camper in ’33-’35 I was subjected to the training for leaders and staff conducted by Mr. Frank Hall, Boys’ Work Secretary, Mr. Reg. T. Rose and Mr. W. Kingerley, General Secretary. I inherited the Camp’s philosophy and facilities, by far the most adequate in the province with its teepees and dining lodge. The teepees were sewn by Stoney Indian women and we worked through Jacob Two Youngman who drove a hard bargain with the Camp Staff.

The camp came complete with philosophy, program and activities so it was largely a case of doing what had been done last year, but bigger and better. Of course there are some texts that pointed the way such as Charles Hendry and Hedley Dimoch’s, Camping and Character”. The Y.M.C.A. had been in the camping field for years. Central to everyone’s philosophy were the Christian religious tenants, which resulted in daily chapel activities and other character developing principles. The inspiration of nature—mountains, lakes and forests—set a high tone for all who would stop and appreciate.

The teepee discussion sessions, as embers darkened and went out, provided many teachable moments.

These were the days when small group organization patterns (7 or 8 campers and a leader) were the order of the day. Each leader was well equipped with ideas of program activities for a rainy day, trips down the canyon or 3-day riding or climbing expeditions. Hobbies of all sorts were used to pass idle moments, of which there were few, and while the program was self-determined by each group, special events kept everyone involved.

The safety and health of all was foremost in the minds of the Staff members and fun and learning were close behind.

A balanced budget had a high priority. At the same time $7.50 fees per week provided all that was necessary.

The object of course, was to help the camper grow and mature into a contributing member of society. It was evident that the Staff did a good deal of maturing also. People like Hu Harries, the wrangler. Phil Fawcett, the leader of some of the best sing-songs – dozens of others I’m sure are looking back at those days and thanking the Y.M.C.A. and Camp Chief Hector for the contributions to their lives.

Dick Stapells became the Camp Director after Ray Fairbairn. He managed the camp through times of increasing shortages. An example of these is provided in that campers were supposed to send in ration coupons so butter, sugar, and such could be had at camp. Butter was still rationed in 1946.

Ray Atkinson succeeded Dick as Camp Director on VE Day in the spring of 1945. Ray had directed Camp Manitou out of Winnipeg, where some of the ideas used had come from former Hectorites Bill MacFarlane, Doug Whittle, and Rory McLennan.

1945 Leaders Council: L to R. Ray Harris, Pete Hume, Walt Deitiker, Unknown, Nick Farmer, B. Williams (f), Chuck Hantho, Gord Carg (f), Jim Rockley, Unknown, Ray Atkinson (Camp DIrector), Bob Harris, Don Lamond (Protor)

Ray writes of his years:

At the end of the war, camp leaders, were mostly older teenagers, with just a smattering of more mature young men. I can recall Don Lamond, Roy (Squeak) Glover, and Keith Lord, who had been at Camp Manitou with me, and Harold (Red) Yeats, who joined us for the summer from the railroad. A group picture showed a number of other leaders as Walt and Roy Luyendyk, Dan Binkley, Ray Harris, Bob Walker, Al Skelton, Jim Rockley, Al Meiklejohn, Rennie Dawson, Bill Carney, Bob Louden, Bill Patrick, Chuck Hantho, Harry Palmer, Walt Deitiker, Bill Lane, and three who are now deceased, Ross Thomas, Jim Rockley, and George Larsen.

Cec Riddel, who had been so reliable in so many roles at camp over so many years, was conscripted as camp cook. Cec was also the inspiration for building four cabins for junior camp in about 1950. The Y’s Mens Club built them, with myself as general contractor. The beds were hung six feet off the floor, so the whole floor area was available for program. Cec also improvised the showers, a most welcome addition, and sweat baths.

“Official” transportation were my old cars, a 1928 Pontiac and 1930 Hudson—of course new cars were impossible to get in the wartime years of 1939 to 1945 and almost as difficult right up to 1950. These old cars nearly always got where they had to go, but there were some nervous trips, one remembered where the camp nurse and my wife pushed the car a considerable distance before Red Yeats took a temporary leave of absence from his job as a C.P.R. brakeman, leapt off the train steps and helped with the pushing.

The Stoney Indians helped us each year with the erection of the teepees, providing firewood, and providing the horses. Because June was right in the rodeo season and also was the season for Sun Dance ceremonies, it was occasionally touch and go whether these things would be ready in time. Usually they were.

We had a pretty good working relationship with the Stoney Indians, especially Chief Jacob Two Youngman (now deceased) and Moses Jimmy-John. Moses lived with his young wife in the cabin on the canyon, just past the steel bridge, and was close enough to keep pretty close tab on us. He was a straight-backed, dignified old man then—a beautiful example of a proud race.

He used to tell us tales of the past in his most picturesque way.

Once a year we had an Indian program, with them showing their Chicken Dance and all. Then the Indians would display their craft wares—they did a pretty brisk trade. At least once a week one of the chiefs would be around to check up on us.

Pre-camp was always a delightful time, with no campers, but with lots of work to get done, and lots of food and fun! Plenty of things had to be readied, such as painting of boats, and such. Everything was pretty makeshift, for money was extremely scarce.

Campers were kept pretty busy. Mornings involved teepee cleanup, crafts, swimming and waterfront activities. The camp nurse did teepee inspections each day, and awards were given for the best ones. Campers were very happy in 1947 when the camp purchased an automatic potato peeler. Junior campers had had this duty prior to the purchase. In 1948 an automatic dishwasher was purchased. Such improvements! At first our only boats were some very battered punts, but in 1949 four canoes were purchased. These were used on the Bow, and on the Ghost River and Dam. Out trips and mountain climbing were the real attractions even then. By today’s standards the equipment was really crude, with blankets and groundsheet usually rolled and looped doughnut style around the neck or shoulder. No wonder so many younger campers were exhausted so early, because the loads required plenty of stamina. We planned to have everyone off on an overnight

Trips at least once a week. We had no real mountaineering experts in our midst. Nevertheless there were regular trips up Yamnuska, Association, and End Mountains. Occasionally a longer horse trail ride went out—nearly every time one or more of the horses would escape the hobbles and wander home on its own, leaving some pretty bedraggled campers to get home without their expected ride.

On one memorable occasion, in the 1948 season, a group of staff leaders decided late at night to go on horseback up Yamnuska to see the sunrise. The problem of catching the horses at night was to be solved by using railway flares provided by Red Yeats. About one o’clock the group started after the horses—when the first flare went off, the horses scattered wildly in all directions. It took till after dawn to catch the last horse, after each flare set off a fresh stampede. Nevertheless, up Yamnuska they went, seeing the sunrise from part way up. Camp got off to a rather late (and dragging) start that day.

Music was very important. There were singsongs, gag songs, hiking songs, table or teepee songs, and music appreciation programs—the works. Some of our old songs composed in the late 1940’s were still in existence at the 1972 reunion. (The Last Grand Council)  Dramatic evenings were highlights. We had formal dinners, backward days, and Chinese days, snipe hunts, etc. etc. A lot of the gags and stunts were reenacted through many years and became standards.

The Snipe Hunt

It being the end of July, the beginning of a new moon, and a clear night, things looked just about right … Add to this the fact that several had been sighted and distinct tracks had been seen and there was no alternative. Quite obviously it was the ideal night for a Snipe Hunt.

As zero hour approached the hunters were equipped and briefed. Just as darkness fell the teepees crept out and set their traps. There was silence for about an hour except for the clicking of rocks, snipe calls, and quiet rustling. The juniors returned with many near catches. Mork had one practically “IN THE BAG” when “some big leader” crashed through and scared it away. Other similar incidents were continuously told down the line.

The Intermediates a little later returned more fortunate. In spite of many weird animal calls echoing through the bush, the Kiwanees seemed to find the right spot. They brought back in a rather smashed state three messes, which had once been snipes.

In the SENIOR SECTION several were sighted and Skelton, Lowden, Williams and Roy Luyendyk had three between them only to lose two as they approached the lodge.

As for the Leaders’ Expedition, the less said the better perhaps—they didn’t even hear one! Anyways, only 8 Snipes were removed from the STONEY INDIAN RESERVE and one pie is coming up!

Pie Song: (Tune: Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here)

Pie! Pie! We all like Pie!
Coconut and cherry,
Peach and huckleberry,
Pie! Pie! Snipe pie is fine!
That’s the way Kiwanees dine!
(Piffle 1946)

One lively innovation was the annual camp rodeo. The chuck wagon race involved the whole teepee group—councilor at the controls of a wildly bouncing wheelbarrow, and the lightest camper as “Driver”, but really hanging on for dear life. All the other campers pulled, and with two “chuck wagons” competing at a time there was lots of excitement—drivers bounced out and run over, horses trampled! On one occasion a team strayed so close to the canyon edge that one “horse” found himself suspended in mid-air—by hanging desperately to the ropes, he was carried back on to solid ground. One year the rodeo was climaxed by the roasting of an 80- pound leg of beef. Nothing was ever so delicious.

Grand Council, of course, was heavy in tradition. We were able to purchase a beautiful headdress from the Stoneys, with real eagle feathers and all. The headgear, plus one that a leader made, graced our very serious ceremonies at the old stockade. With the paint, the costumes, the Indian legends (sometimes a bit distorted but real enough for us), these ceremonies maintained a reverence, which impressed the leaders and campers. Despite some ingenious proposals on how to ignite the council fire on demand, we were not always successful! (Editors Note: Gerry Graves perfected the technique in the 1960s.)

One of the most moving ceremonies was held on the last night of each camp, when we held a firelight ceremony on Canmore Beach at dusk. A torch light parade of the leaky old boats pulled a raft, which burned brightly, fed by the notes written by each camper of what camp had meant to him. This was concluded with the sound of “Taps” echoing across the lake, with “Thanks for the day comrade, thanks for the day.”

In our camp craft programs, we relied on the Ernest Thompson Seton books, which were loaded with the survival methods of the early pioneers. Even though they were of another era and another place, they had a lot of relevance for the type of camp and program we were running. In 1949 an old City of Calgary streetcar became the craft hall.

We set some standards of expectation on all of our camp staff—standards that might be considered out-of-step today. The staff was incredibly young, but I have never met a more dedicated and involved group of people since. Most of them were with us for the full eight weeks, including setting up and dismantling the camp—at the end they might get a $10 honorarium for all their dedicated hard work, with day and night supervision of their boys for the six weeks of actual camp, with only one day per week off.

Ray’s comments on salaries are well taken. Camp salaries have always been extremely low. Camp staff has always been very dedicated. They’ve had to be. In looking at the 1947 budget it is noted that the camp nurse received $40 when $25 had been budgeted.  The horseman made up for some of this since $25 was budgeted for him, but he was paid $22. Some people must have been better negotiators than others.

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