Camp Stephens Celebrates 125 Years

Lake of the Woods Museum Newsletter
Vol. 26 No. 3 – Summer 2016

By Katelyn Charlebois, summer student

2016 marks the 125th anniversary of Camp Stephens, a Lake of the Woods summer camp for youth and families that is operated by the YMCA/YWCA. This brief account of the camp and its history reflects on the constancy of the Camp and its values amidst the incredible changes this world has seen since 1891 when the Camp was established. 

Originally the YMCA ran what was called the “Lake of the Woods Institute” on Keewatin Beach for the first couple of years of operation. Due to increased development in the Keewatin Beach area, the members of the YMCA began searching for a new, more permanent location to host the summer camp. 

In 1893, four gentlemen – Messrs. R.C. Richardson, C.M. Copeland, W.D. Bayly Sr. and J. Ball spent several weekends in rowboats on Lake of the Woods searching for a suitable spot. During the search the group came across a grouping of five islands that would become the permanent site for the Camp. Honouring through naming is a tradition throughout the history of the Camp and so the five islands were named after C.M. Copeland, Mr. Fleming, Mr. T.D. Patton, Mr. James Ball and Sir George Williams. Lake of the Woods Institute was renamed Camp Stephens, after long-time YMCA president Mr. G.F. Stephens. 

The world has endured many troubling times since 1891, including two world wars, yet Camp Stephens has only closed for one summer, 1918, due to World War I. The war impacted the lives of camp-goers further since many of the older campers enlisted and, sadly, 54 of them did not return home.

Popularity in the camp continually grew, with 1947 being the first year that registration numbers surpassed available space, forcing the Camp organizers to have to turn away potential campers.

Another significant change to impact Camp Stephens was the progress of technology. For transport out to Copeland Island, rowboats were replaced by steamboats and then motorboats. The Camp didn’t have any communication connection to the mainland until 1962 when a radio telephone was installed. Although technology has aided in developments, Camp Stephens remains true to its roots and discourages campers from bringing cellphones, iPods and other electronic devices. Through activities such as canoeing, children are focused on completing the direct task, such as one more paddle or reaching the island, which leads to the feeling of accomplishment and the building of confidence. The disconnection from technology is key in providing the children with an escape from the stress of the outside world, allowing them to fully engage with their environment and peers.

Equality and inclusiveness have been two practiced values throughout Camp Stephens’ history, demonstrated by welcomed diversity and the Camp’s expanding availability to a wide range of youth and families. The camp was initially for boys and girls and then starting in 1910 it became a boys-only camp, with girls reintroduced to camp programs in 1972. The Camp was co-ed by 1980.

Christianity was previously part of camp activities, however the Camp currently has no religious association, focusing primarily on building strong character in children. The YMCA/YWCA works to ensure that families and children, from all backgrounds and incomes, have equal opportunities to attend camp and live a healthy, active life.

Today Camp Stephens remains located on Lake of the Woods on Copeland Island which is approximately a 20-minute boat ride from Kenora’s Harbourfront. The Camp features overnight island camping with a variety of fun activities such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, rock climbing and sharing stories around a campfire. Also offered at Camp Stephens are wilderness canoe trips to remote areas for a duration of two, three or four weeks, as well as the six-week invitational expedition for former experienced campers. Both these experiences are highly praised by participants.

Facilities at the Camp include 18 cabins which accommodate up to 12 campers each, a large dining hall for family-style meals, a lodge, showers and washrooms, and a wellness centre.

A 125th year anniversary is truly a milestone to be celebrated and camp alumni will be coming together on July 30-31 to share stories and memories. For more information about the anniversary celebrations, transportation to Camp Stephens for the weekend and how to register, please go to:

Did you know?

Norval Morrisseau is the grandfather of the Woodland School style of art.

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