The Taylor Statten Camps Legacy stretches back to the early 1920s when a young man's dream was realized and Camp Ahmek was established, the first Canadian-owned private camp in Algonquin Park.
Taylor Statten Becomes The Director
TSC history is unique and stretches back to the early 1900s. The year 1906 saw Taylor Statten, A Boer War veteran, become the full-time Boy’s Work Secretary for the national YMCA. His work was celebrated by parents across the country and he soon established the Canadian Standards Efficiency Training program. This program gave children an opportunity to be rewarded for the development of their intellectual, social, physical, and religious skills.
In 1912, while on a family vacation, Taylor became enamored with a spot in Algonquin Park, Ontario named Canoe Lake. There he envisioned a place for young men and women to come and bask in its natural glory.
In 1921, Taylor’s dream was realized as a summer camp that focused on teaching wood-craft and natural lore. He named the camp “Ahmek” after the Ojibwa name meaning “Great Beaver.” Having to mortgage his home to fund the camp, Taylor opened Ahmek for six weeks that summer and welcomed 60 boys. Taylor Statten officially became the director of Canada’s first privately owned summer camp.
By this time, TSC’s reputation had spread all over North America as one of the leading authorities in the camping movement. A group of TSC alumni published esteemed camping literature such as Camping and Character (1929), Marks of Good Camping (1941), and Administration of the Modern Camp (1948). These and several other works produced revolutionary philosophies and institutions that became common practice for camps in the American and Canadian Camping Associations.
The Taylor Statten Camps grew to be revered for five outstanding characteristics:
- Attention to health and safety.
- Philosophy centered on character education, individual development, and a democratic community. A sharp contrast to militaristic camps of the day.
- A rich camp culture centered on values, tradition, and a strong understanding of the natural environment.
- Programs built on learning skills for life.
- A focus on unlocking individual potential in order to train youth as outstanding leaders for the future, supported by measurable objectives.
The Torch is Passed
The 1950s proved to be a period of great transition and expansion for the camps. In 1954, Taylor Statten II (Dr. Tay), Canada’s first Child Psychiatrist, took over as the second Director at Ahmek. Adele Ebbs (Couchie) and her husband, Dr. Harry Ebbs, had already been directing Wapomeo for several years.
Under Dr. Tay’s leadership, extended canoe trips outside of Algonquin Park became popular options. In 1965, two 28 day canoe trips were undertaken with great success in Quetico Provincial Park. Then in 1968, Dr. Tay founded The Outpost camp on Lake Maskinonge on the southwestern edge of the vast Temagami canoe tripping region. Suddenly new and exciting exploratory trips were launched into connected areas including the Biscotasing area further west and the Kipawa and La Verendrye domains in northwestern Quebec.
In 1987, word was received that the beloved Dr. Tay would be honoured with the Order of Canada. While TSC’s reputation continued to grow, so did both the in-camp and canoe-tripping programs with new buildings, new activities, and new canoe trip routes.
In Dr. Tay’s final years as Camp Director, Ahmek and Wapomeo had the distinction of caring for the sons and daughter of three Canadian Prime Ministers. Prime Minister Trudeau, a former Ahmek camper himself (and yes, we taught him the “Ahmek J-stroke”), sent Justin, Alexandre (Sasha) and Michel (Mike) to Ahmek. Both Justin and Mike eventually became counsellors. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent Ben, Caroline and Mark to TSC and visited them via helicopter in 1987. Prime Minister John Turner also sent his son Michael for a couple summers.
A Third Generation of Statten Leadership
By 1975, Couchie and her husband Dr. Harry Ebbs decided to retire. In 1976, Taylor “Tike” Statten III moved to Wapomeo with his wife Sue to take on the Directorship.
Wapomeo and Ahmek continued to prosper and expand as campers from Mexico and numerous European countries began making TSC their summer home. For twelve years, father and son directed Ahmek and Wapomeo until 1988 when Tike and Sue returned to Ahmek and joined Dr. Tay. Shortly thereafter the mantle was again passed and Tike (a teacher and counsellor in the Toronto public school system) became Director of Camp Ahmek and of the Taylor Statten Camps.
The Camps, on leased property from the Ontario provincial government, became concerned that their long term lease was nearing expiry. In 2002, after years of negotiations, Algonquin Park Superintendent, John Winters, quietly announced 60 year lease extensions for all Algonquin Park camps. A flurry of much needed repairs, renewals and additions followed this announcement. At Wapomeo, this included 2 new barges, a spectacular new lodge/theatre facility, a triproom and a refurbished central washroom. At Ahmek new cabins were built along with a state-of-art central washroom complex with solar panels for the production of hot water. A high ropes course was added for the use of both Camps while boardsails and kayaks further expanded programmed activities. A solar system was added to The Outpost and a new barge for transporting supplies across the 8 mile length of Lake Maskinonge was built. A small house was purchased in Toronto, converted into a Business Office and is presently the Winter office for the camps.
Family Tradition Continues With The Fourth Generation
After working in the investment industry and spending time abroad earning a Master of Business Administration degree, Taylor IV joined the family business in 2003 as Director of Business Operations. Today, in his current role as Managing Director, Taylor continues to manage the company’s finances, supervises day to day operations and is President of the Board of Directors.
Fundamentally, TSC Stays True To Values
In recent years, camp has modified some of its ways to accommodate the modern day family lifestyle. Shorter lengths of stay have been created, sparked by a strong lobby from a great number of parents. A two week program, and a Tryout Camp of 4 days for younger girls and boys, have opened up the opportunity for more children to attend TSC. The Taylor Statten Camping Bursary Fund, created and administered by TSC alumni, was set up to assist parents unable to pay the total cost of enrolment. A new ’green’ policy was applied to reduce the environmental impact of the camp and its trips. Moreover, the camps still emphasize individual development, leadership skills, basic core values, and team building -fundamentally the philosophy espoused by our founder Taylor Statten that has been passed down through four generations. In many ways, TSC indeed remains very much the same.
Wapomeo Is Born
Ahmek was so successful that Taylor Statten opened an overnight camp for girls in 1924 to be run by his wife Ethel Statten. It was named “Wapomeo”, after the Ojibway term for birds of sunshine and laughter. Though met with great opposition from their colleagues, Taylor and Ethel Statten insisted that the camp be situated on the island of Little Wapomeo due to its close proximity to Ahmek, in case either camp needed help. This unprecedented idea of a girl’s and boy’s camp on the same lake was not only approved by parents and campers but was also far more efficient. Just like Ahmek, Wapomeo was a great success and offered the same activity programs (though dancing and crafts replaced boxing and wrestling).
In the following years, the camps continued to grow. At Ahmek, a diving tower with hand-made waterslides, riding stables, and even a great pirate ship were constructed! On Little Wapomeo Island, the dining hall, waterfront, and a large scenic platform used for dancing, were assembled.
Both Ahmek and Wapomeo built more and more cabins to house the increasing camper population. In 1927, Wapomeo had to expand to another island because Little Wapomeo was becoming overcrowded. Ahmek’s Log Theatre was also built that summer. The massive theatre possessed a perfect stage for theatrical performances, viewed by campers and staff from canoes adrift in the bay.
Ahmek Refuses to Close
Not more than three days before the campers were to arrive in the summer of 1937, a savage fire burned down the Ahmek dining hall, kitchen, and store house. The fire was eventually extinguished by the modest work crew in camp at the time forming a bucket brigade. Though no one was hurt, the damage done to these fundamental buildings was beyond repair. Taylor Statten acted fast, instantly preparing for a solution to the devastating disaster. He contacted the Ridpath Company to construct 50 wooden tables by hand, rented 300 chairs from the same company, and ordered two circus tents from Scythes and Co. for the dining hall and kitchen. Many people worked day and night to replenish the camp with supplies, and by Saturday (The fire was on Wednesday) camp began on time with the arrival of over 200 campers. Not even the harshest of elements can keep the Taylor Statten Camps from opening every year since 1921!
Promptly after the first dining hall burnt down, the new dining hall was constructed. Designed by George “Chubby” Chubb, the Ahmek dining hall was finished in the spring of 1938 and stands today as the camp’s focal building. It is complete with two fireplaces, a built-in kitchen, formidable acoustics for musical and theatrical performances, and a very spacious dining area.
TSC Canoe Tripping Program
For many years, both Ahmek and Wapomeo campers had become familiar with canoe tripping in Algonquin Park. The trips in Algonquin had been so successful that the interest to travel outside the park arose. The approaching 1967 Centennial of Confederation had the Canadian Camping Association encouraging camps to explore sections of the cross-Canada canoe route travelled by the voyageurs.
The Quetico region was chosen in 1965 for TSC campers to take a 21 day trip; the first long trip outside of Algonquin Park. The voyage was to begin with a bus ride to North Bay, a train to Quetico, three weeks of tripping, a 15km portage, and end with a 5-day bus trip back to camp. Quetico was a huge success, and has ever since, survived as TSC’s most popular canoe trip.