Galilean Bible Camp is more than a summer stint – Sault Star Article
Galilean Bible Camp is more than a summer stint for those who rudder the facility — it’s a mission with a major purpose
“If you have trouble believing there is a God and that He is alive today, let me tell you the story of Galilean Bible Camp,” wrote Shirley Stewart in her book on the camp’s history.
That book was published in 2001 on the occasion of the camp’s 50th anniversary and, this year, it celebrates its 61st year.
Located on Lake Duborne (still called “Lake of the Mountains” by many) eight kilometres north of Blind River, the property was bought by long-time Blind River postmistress Margaret Thompson, who started a tourist resort called Sunny Nook Cabins. The money she made was used to help those in need and she envisioned that one day the resort would become a children’s camp.
Slowly, she built cabins onto the property and finally a chapel which still divides the girl’s side of the camp from the boy’s side.
The second part of the beginning of the camp happened nearly 160 kilometres away when Mary Neal joined the Canadian Sunday School Mission (CSSM) and was sent to the Sault Ste. Marie area to teach Daily Vacation Bible Schools. She met Granny See, a long-time St. Joseph Island resident who offered Neal her farm to run week-long camps for children.
Needless to say, by 1951 the camp had grown so much that the facilities were inadequate. Neal couldn’t get to all the schools and classes she needed to.
Right around then, CSSM Ontario branch director Fred Kreick met Margaret Thompson, who offered Sunny Nook Cabins as a location for the children’s camp and, in 1952, the dream came to fruition with 72 campers enrolled that first year.
The camp got its name in 1959 when it was suggested by Rev. Malcolm Barr, who saw a resemblance between Lake Duborne and the Sea of Galilee.
CSSM Ministries now runs more than 40 camps across Canada, including five in Ontario. The other interesting fact is that the facility is a not-for-profit, non-denominational evangelical Christian camp and is run entirely by volunteers.
Many volunteers were around during May to help with the various chores required to get the camp in order for the summer sessions. Men were waterproofing the walls around the main building, which is fondly called The Lodge and houses the dining room and the winter chapel upstairs. A new accessible washroom was also being installed.
Other volunteers have been helping with some painting, cleaning, and minor repairs. Although the camp is open year-round, cabins are only used during in summer so they need to be prepared for campers each spring.
Board member Howard McLeod, also the camp’s first full-time director, was one of those volunteers. His year’s leave of absence from his teaching job stretched into more than 30 years.
“Finding volunteers is a steady job,” he said. “There are more than 300 positions to fill over the summer.”
McLeod lauds the strength in their volunteers and supporters. To demonstrate how much support they have, he explains the board decided to replace the eight windows across the front of the 36-year-old lodge building. When the call was put out seeking sponsorship, within a month the board ended up with enough money to replace all windows.
When the property was turned over to CSSM in the 1970s, there were five cabins and a dining hall and chapel down by the water.
Since then, five more cabins have been added, plus the lodge building on the hill which houses the dining room and the year round chapel.
Closer to the water, there’s also a summer chapel and gym building named after Mary Neal.
Neil Ellson has been director since 2006 and, as he nears retirement — at least from the director’s position — he looks forward to working with Bill Kay and his wife, Catrin, who will probably take over as directors. For now, the young couple, which met while doing missionary work in Kenya, is spending this first summer as assistant directors.
Both Ellson and his wife and the Kays live onsite. Another couple, Rod and Carol Gordon, also live there year-round. He does maintenance and she works in the office. Year-round staff usually range in number from four to seven. Each raises sponsorship funds to help support work they do.
Galilean Bible Camp holds week-long sessions of co-ed camping, starting on Sunday afternoons and ending on Friday evenings, with a closing barbecue. Up to 105 campers per session can be accommodated.
First up are two week-long junior sessions, Great Big C, for ages 7-10.
Next up is the first Skills camp of the summer in which campers aged 10-12 will pick an activity they want to concentrate on. Camps are most limited as numbers for specific activities are limited. One of the most popular choices is horsemanship, where campers will go to nearby Rocking Horse Stables for lessons. Other skills camps range from archery in which professional archers, such as Jack Sherman, teach. Other skills camp choices include camp newspaper, canoeing/kayaking, hydrofoil skiing, riflry, outdoor sports, water sports, and outdoor living.
After a week-long Family camp, in which families participate in activities, another skills camp takes place followed by Breakaway, geared to junior high school students and B4U, a high school camp.
The season ends with a week of day camps in which children are brought in for daily camp activities and returned home that afternoon.
All camp sessions include the usual activities, such as games, sports, swimming, and campfires. A highlight is the hydrofoil chair, the only air chair in Northern Ontario. And this being a Bible camp, non-denominational chapel and Bible study are also important.
Two additional camps run alongside the first three sessions of the summer. One is Odyssey, which is held at a wilderness site a short distance down the shore. Two weeks of Odyssey are boys only and one week is girls only. These youngsters, aged 11-14, are introduced to the wilderness. The camp has its own cooks, who help campers as they learn to prepare their own meals.
The other camp is a Canoe trip for boys, in which they canoe down the Mississagi River to Thessalon and back to Blind River, camping overnight along the way. So far, there hasn’t been enough interest to have a girl’s trip.
Children get three meals and a snack daily. There’s also a tuck shop available, limited to $2 per day.
“No matter which session children register for, it’s a full program and everyone is tired by bedtime” Ellson said.
There are still vacancies in all of camps, but he anyone interested should register as soon as his or her first session choice.
While McLeod estimates that 90% of campers live between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, there are also some from southern Ontario and the U.S. Many of those from farther away come because they have a connection to the camp; often one or both of their parents once attended.
Advertising is done locally, mostly through churches and on radio. Camp information is also available online.
Sometimes sponsorship funds are available to help with children, who might not be able to afford to attend a camp session. In those cases, families are encouraged to pay at least the basic registration fee plus anything else they can contribute.
“The more we can stretch our sponsorship funds, the more kids we can have attend,” Ellson said.
Summer staff per session averages 45 though some volunteers may only be at one session and others may be for the entire summer. Sometimes a parent will volunteer so that they are on site with a nervous youngster who’s camping for the first time.
Many of the kids become counsellors as they get older. Sixteen-year-olds start out in the Challenging and Equipping Youth (CEY) course and most kids will return as counsellors for a few years. There’s currently one who’s been doing it for seven years.
Service team is another program that runs for specific sessions and allows 15-year-olds to gain experience as part of the team running the sessions.
“It’s good because it provides them with a taste of what each position is like,” Ellson said.
There’s also a Summer Missionary Program (SMP), in which youth can participate for three weeks or more by raising support, and government grants are sometimes available for older students who work for the summer.
“We have a lot of volunteers and we’d definitely be in trouble without them,” Ellson said.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for more. Keeping volunteers ready is a big job, which also involves an application process and a police check.
Though summer is the busy season for Galilean Bible Camp, it is a year-round facility.
Other activities areheld throughout the year ,including two 50-plus conferences, one in the spring and one in the fall. There are also various youth events, and both a women’s and pastor’s conference. The facilities are often rented out to other groups.
Winter activities are mostly limited to weekends though, occasional events are held that last a full week. Additionally, there are many one-day events.
Fundraising to operate and maintain the premises is done mostly through church memberships and via a mailing list they maintain.
Sometimes special events, such as banquets, are held to generate funds. One such event was billed as a birthday party and guests were asked to consider their donation their “birthday gift” to the camp.
Though the Kays just arrived about three weeks ago, they are already getting into full swing of camp life. Like all missionaries of CSSM Ministries, they are faith-supported, trusting that God will provide their monthly needs.
Though Catrin is from the United Kingdom, Bill is from Thessalon and had actually attended the camp and then spent a number of years as a counsellor.
He’d once said that “it would be neat to come back” and is thrilled that he’s been able to.
“It wasn’t so much that I was coming home as that I felt that I had gifts that I could use here,” he said.
Catrin, a nurse, would like to get back into her profession someday but, for now, she’s working alongside her husband as they recruit staff and prep for the start of the summer sessions.
“Once that starts, it’ll all become a blur,” laughs Bill. “But it’s a good one that we’re really looking forward to.”
For volunteer and camper registration, call 705-356-7961 or 1-877-240-0847.