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Adults only: A whole new summer camp

By Angela Long

Published June 28 2016

Updated June 30 2016

It was another “Sunday night moan-fest” that made Danielle Goldfinger think back to a time of s’mores by the campfire. “Ugh we have to go to work tomorrow” she recalls saying to a friend.

For the well-known Toronto event planner work meant a day of being cooped up in an office staring at a computer. Goldfinger just wanted one thing: to be outside.

But outside didn’t mean a walk in High Park. Outside meant the summer camps of her youth – the pristine lakes and forests surrounding Gravenhurst and Sudbury. The only problem was she was 32 not 12.

“That’s when a lightbulb went off” she says and Two Islands Weekend – an all-inclusive adults-only camp – went from moan-fest to smashing success. Think bloody Caesars for breakfast then a day filled with canoeing or archery or pinata making. Think renowned chefs dishing up gourmet fried chicken and barbecue short-ribs. Think 1150 acres of secluded forest and a lake dotted by islands in the Haliburton Highlands.

For not only did Goldfinger come up with an idea that has landed her on the pages of nearly a dozen national publications she met Harley Hayman director of Camp Timberlane.

Hayman idles the speedboat just in front of Solo Island. He explains why he’s been coming here for 19 years – his journey from camper to counsellor to senior staff to director. But the view from Lake of Two Islands says it all.

Goldfinger felt the same way when she first entered Timberlane’s gates after months of scouting for the perfect spot to host her camp.

“I was absolutely blown away by Timberlane” she says. The combination of Goldfinger’s vision and Hayman’s deep connection to a place that fosters “spirit integrity and tradition” along with a healthy dose of event-planning savvy has ensured Two Islands Weekend sells out within days of opening for bookings.

“Danielle has gone from 80 campers in 2012 to 250 this year” Hayman says.

Born and bred in Toronto Hayman knows firsthand how important it is to get out of the city and “out of your comfort zone.”

“But while you’re at it” he says “why not eat amazing food and participate in some really cool events?”

From Sept. 9 to 11 Goldfinger rents the camp from Timberlane for the $375 per person Two Islands Weekend but she says it’s “more than just a rental.” The camp provides staff and runs the day programs. It provides 50 summers’ worth of experience ensuring 500 young campers have the best time of their lives.

“I could never have done it without Harley and the culture of Timberlane” Goldfinger says.

Timberlane’s culture is steeped in nearly 60 years of tradition. First purchased by Philomena and Barry Lowes in the late '50s the camp has always looked beyond its pine-clad shores. Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame and triple Academy Award winner the composer Howard Shore are both Timberlane alumni. The camp has its own ice cream shop movie theatre radio station. A summer-long stint costs parents more than a year’s university tuition. But it’s guys like Harley Hayman that keep it real.

“Camp changes lives” he says. “Even for adults.”

Hayman offers a homemade ice cream. He walks past wooden A-frame cabins talking about the shy the socially awkward.

“The first year of Danielle’s camp a 50-year-old woman was terrified to try the zip line. But then she did. People cheered her on. Clapped. Congratulated her. She was so moved she couldn’t stop crying.”

Hayman has watched many such people children and adults enter the camp gates alone and leave smiling and laughing with new friends.

“I want people to come and feel like they’ve been nurtured the whole weekend” says Goldfinger. “I want them to leave Timberlane feeling revived refreshed.”

For people who live in the city says Goldfinger where life moves “very very quickly” and 75 per cent of your time is spent in front of computer screens or on iPhones immersing yourself in nature at a camp for adults is more than just the trend it’s become in the past couple years. It’s a necessity. The dozens of events – the zorb soccer the Beyoncé dance classes the locally run wild edible hike the acro yoga – these are all backdropped by the smell of lake water the crackle of a camp fire the sight of the Milky Way.

But the camp is also infused by the spirit of the camp counsellor – a spirit embodied by people like Hayman – creating a safe space in which you can revisit that child longing for s’mores by the fire.

“As a counsellor you drop a pebble into the pond” reads a plaque by Phil and Barry’s ice cream shop quoting Timberlane founder Barry Lowes “never knowing how far the ripples will spread.”

A butterfly lands on a chunk of Canadian Shield. A chipmunk scampers across the path. Hayman waves from the deck of his cabin. On the other side of Timberlane’s gates it’s hard not to smile.