Early Days at Camp Wapomeo

My Uncle, Lorne McDonald, was a personal friend of Taylor Statten’s when they both worked at the Toronto Y.M.C.A., and was on the staff at Ahmek when it began. My father, Burt McDonald, always maintained a keen interest in the camp as well. At one point he gave the funds to build the first bridge across Wigwam Bay. For many years this was known as McDonald Bridge. Subsequently he sent all four of his children to camp: two sons, Lorne and Burt, and two daughters, Lola Ruth and me. I first came to Wapomeo in 1927 as a little girl of eight. So you can imagine that I have many memories of those early.

Before there were any roads through Algonquin Park, the only way to get to camp was by train. This exciting journey began in Toronto, Union Station. The special train left at night, with separate cars for Wap and Ahmek. Pity the poor accompanying counsellors in charge of this mass of eager campers. Some were meeting old friends, some were new and shy, and many had never ridden a train before.

Morning found us at Scotia Junction where we all piled off the train for breakfast while the train was rotated 90 degrees toward the park. The most memorable park of the train ride was crossing the many high, wooden trestles. They seemed very flimsy. It was relatively short journey to Canoe Lake Station where the Wapomeo people got off. The Ahmek campers went on to Joe Lake station about half a mile farther on. The boys had to walk into camp through the sand pits.

Campers ArrivalAt Canoe Lake Station we were met with every conceivable type of boat, including dozens of Wap canoes, the two war canoes, and strange, capacious vessel called the Bathtub which held our luggage. The returning campers, clutching paddles, made straight for the canoes, while new campers, non-swimmers, or doubtful paddlers filled up the other boats. I can’t remember how long the trip took, but if you were returning camper you were on pins and needles to see what cabin you were in, if you were going to be with your buddies from previous summers, and who was going to be your counsellor.

During my first summer, when I was eight years old, my cabin was one of the top two cabins in the original two-decker, four-cabin accommodation for campers. My cabin overlooked the adjacent small Council Ring, so we little ones could watch all the action on Council Ring nights even though we were banished to bed early. My first counsellor was a very young Couchie. I can’t remember too much of those early days except for learning to swim, suspended by a paddle through my bathing suit straps and being held up by two counsellors who walked either side of a narrow pool on the main dock. I thought I knew how to swim already, so I was rather insulted by this treatment. But then, as now, passing a swimming test was the number-one priority.

A vivid memory is that of learning to ride. In those days, the horses were stable don the mainland behind Little Wap. We went over by boat, and how I dreaded those trips. I had a mortal fear of horses, and for reasons which escape me, I was always given a huge (to me) white horse with bright blue eyes who used to turn its head to look at me – and then roll over. Much more pleasant were overnight trips to Tea Lake on the Pirates Ship – a trip designed for non-swimmers, or at least non-canoeists.

I went back to camp for the next 14 years. Wapomeo was my life – winter and school were simply days to get through until summer. Mostly, those early days, free of all civilized amenities like flush toilets, running water, or electricity, were exciting and different. The beauty of unspoiled nature and the close friendships wrapped you in lifelong memories that drew you back year after year.

Written by Elizabeth (McDonald) Shapiro for Fires of Friendship, p. 30.