Former staff, campers flock to Bar Harbour

Camp board members issue call for more hands

Near the cabins at Bar Harbour Camp sits a larger building known as the Jolly Green Giant, named for the forest-hued siding that covers its outside walls.

Inside, the white walls are covered in names, dates, handprints and other markings, left behind by the hundreds of campers who have come through in recent years.

The walls provide vivid evidence of the camp’s footprint — the campers who left as much of a mark on Bar Harbour as it left on them.

If more proof was needed, it was abundantly provided at an open house held at the camp on Monday, Sept. 15, attended by more than 60 people.

Former campers, counsellors and other supporters were welcomed to tour the grounds, enjoy dessert and fellowship, and learn about the current state of affairs at the camp, which is operated by the United Church of Canada.

Helen Reed, a United Church minister who serves on the camp’s board of directors, said kids continually tell her how much fun they’ve had at Bar Harbour, and how they feel at home there.

“They find a place where they’re safe,” she said. “This place is a place where they just have fun, and they find a family.”

The camp’s summer program attracted around 200 children this year, while an upcoming senior high camp has between 20 and 25 teens registered for the fall.

Facing declining numbers of volunteers, deteriorating infrastructure and limited resources, the camp’s board recently began a fundraising campaign dubbed “Grow or Go.”

Board member Verna Rock explained previously that the camp must either face some of its ongoing challenges or consider closure, but it was evident on Monday night that the camp’s supporters would rather see it flourish than falter.

Visitors toured the camp’s campfire area, cabin compound and waterfront.

They later gathered in the dining hall — a former church building moved to the camp in the early 1990s — for coffee and dessert, provided by Teresa’s Catering from Donalda.

Board chair Ryan Koehli observed that the older cabins, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, seemed to be the most popular attraction for those who remembered the camp in those days.

Improvements undertaken in 2013 included the installation of a water treatment system and shop, new utility lines and the renovation of the Jolly Green Giant.

Rock announced Monday that the camp would receive a major boost through the Alberta Prairie Railway’s “train robberies” — money collected from the tourists who ride the steam train from Stettler to Big Valley.

She reported that cofounder Don Gillespie had invited her to his office to tell her that he and Bob Willis had decided to start contributing those funds to the camp, news that was applauded by the attendees Monday night.

Willis, speaking to the Independent the following day, said that the amount of the donation would depend on the continuing generosity of train patrons, but expected it would be approximately $10,000 per year.

“One would think it would be in that neighbourhood,” he said.

The board has several projects in mind for the upcoming year, including improved sports equipment, the addition of a target range and expansion of the camp kitchen.

Reed said the board also needs to attract new members and volunteers, saying that the five current members are stretched too thin.

“The five of us are so passionate about camp,” she said. “But we’re exhausted, and we could do with some help.”

Elaine Hennel, who served as director of the junior girls camp for 25 years, spoke of her fond memories of Bar Harbour and pledged to continue her support.

“Thank you for what you’re doing,” she told the board, “and we’ll be behind you all the way.”

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