We have come a long way since 1941…
Imagine that you are setting off on an unknown, exciting adventure to Camp Brébeuf for the first time. You have packed up your belongings and paid your camp fee of $6.50 for one week. It is the summer of 1942, so your camp fee includes transportation by train to Rockwood. You have worn your dress for your camp arrival (as young ladies are not permitted on the train in trousers). When the train drops you off at the Rockwood Station, there may be a horse-drawn cart to take your bag into camp (the Second World War has begun and gasoline is being rationed). If not, you walk.
There are ten camper cabins and you share yours with eleven other girls. Campers and staff alike use the outhouse. There is no hot water and no shower; washing is done with cold water, in a basin, outdoors.
There is a large pavilion where daily Mass is celebrated, a dining hall and kitchen, a small infirmary and staff residences. The Bishop has his own cabin for occasional visits.
In the large playing fields are baseball diamonds and football goal posts. From the tuck shop, you can purchase an “Oh Henry” bar and a bottle of pop, all for ten cents; or maybe a postcard for a penny to send home.
Daily swimming is available in the river (at that time it was 3 meters deep and 33 meters wide in parts).
Your week passes with activities such as hikes, treasure hunts, volleyball and hobbies. Closing campfire is held with 120 campers on your final evening. Then…it’s over. You and your new friends pack up your belongings and trudge tearfully out of the camp lane way to flag down the Rockwood train, taking with you a summer of war-free memories.
—Anecdotes from Margaret Baskerville, camper and staff member in the early 1940’s.
Camp Brébeuf has been creating summer memories like these and more current versions for children for almost 80 years. Officially opened by the most Rev. J.F. Ryan on July 21, 1940, Brébeuf was operated by Rev. James Ford, directed by Rev. Joseph Power and staffed by Hamilton Diocese seminarians.
Originally, camp offered both boys and girls sessions. Girls’ camp was run under Ms. Comerferd, a Hamilton area teacher. However, in 1943, it was made into an all boys’ camp. At that time, many of the camp activities were sports oriented with a boxing ring and a wrestling match area available to work out camper disagreements. Fresh bread and pastries were made in the camp kitchen and milk was delivered by horse and cart from town. Ice blocks were kept in the ice house to maintain perishables. There was one camp vehicle, which was used infrequently due to gasoline rations. Needless to say, Brébeuf has changed considerably since the 1940’s.
Over the years new buildings have appeared and old ones have been taken down. In the 60s, the pool was installed and man-made pond dug out adjacent to the old swimming hole in the Eramosa River. Cabins have been improved and winterized and hot showers are no longer a fantasy.
The Hamilton Catholic Youth Organization has been responsible for the operation and maintenance of the camp since 1978. Camper enrollment has grown, campers with special physical needs were welcomed into the program after large-scale renovations in 1986. Since 1987, Brébeuf has operated year-round with a very successful outdoor education program.
In 2016, the Catholic Youth Organization embarked upon a large capital campaign to update camp facilities and periphery. The first major project was the retro-fitting and updating of the pool and as you know, Birch Hall was renovated and expanded. The C.Y.O. has plans to update and winterize some of our field cabins as well as updating Tamarac (Teacher/Staff cabin) and the Wash house.
During a recent meeting with Margaret Baskerville, a former camper and staff member in the early 1940s, we learned much of the early history of camp. Her return to camp more than fifty years later was a valuable resource to alumni and current employees. As she walked around the much changed camp and visited her old cabin, Marg’s recollection of old trails and memories was an inspiration for us to maintain Camp Brébeuf’s tradition of providing a unique faith filled and fun summer camp experience for children. Although the ice house, baseball diamonds, tuck shop and postcards that Marg remembered are now long gone, Brébeuf still invokes fun-filled memories to last a life time.