Manitoba Pioneer Camp has been an incredibly formative place in my life. Its impact goes back a few generations, as my grandfather (Gordon “Scottie” Stewart) was the camp director for nearly twenty years, which meant that my mother and her siblings grew up on the shores of Shoal Lake. Besides that 3-generation family history (which I hope will become 4, when my kids are old enough to go!), I made some of my closest friends in the years I spent at camp – and met my husband. The sheer physical beauty of the place is one thing, but MPC itself inhabits that place in a spirit of humility and simplicity that I think is rare and precious. MPC invites those who spend time there and in its surrounding wilderness to enter into that created beauty in wonder and gratitude. It is this posture toward the natural world that makes it such a special place, and it means that being there is about more than just the skills or the activities on offer – more even than outdoor adventure as such, although I have always loved that too.
I always came back from camp somehow changed – grounded, empowered, more deeply at peace, more fully myself. There was one canoe trip I led that I will never forget. We had set out to paddle the “long circuit” (the longest canoe trip typically done in a 4 night trip, in the Classic camp setting) with a group of young but keen Senior girls. After a long and hard day paddling against a tough wind, we were looking forward to finding our site in Canoe Lake, which is known for its beauty and clear, deep water. It was about late when we got to where we thought should be the portage. We must have been in the wrong bay, but we didn’t have the time to keep searching as it was falling dark. We ended up camping on the lawn of someone’s cabin nearby, we made a soup that turned out horribly, and ate all the M&Ms out of the trail mix. And we laughed like crazy. We decided, the next day, not to continue the circuit as planned – not wanting to waste further time without being certain to find our spot. It didn’t save us many kilometres of paddling but we knew where we were going! To this day, I have not seen Canoe Lake, but I still remember both the challenge and the sense of strength I gained from that experience. More importantly, I remember how amazing it was to see the girls gain a sense of their own strength too and to come together as a group.
It’s very difficult to try to capture something of what MPC has meant to me in a few paragraphs. It has shaped me beyond measure.