By Angela Long
Published August 9 2016
The signs begin after a few kilometres of dirt road bordered by forest: Please report all mosquito sightings. Who cut the cheese? Speak now or forever hold your pee.
Eighty-one-year-old Ted Morris knows the signs well. For more than 60 years he has travelled along Kennaway Road past the line where the cottages stop and the wilderness begins where the gates of Haliburton Scout Reserve beckon.
“You’re looking at three generations here” he says gesturing across the green picnic table toward his two sons and grandson “and we still read the signs. We still remember signs that were up in the middle of last century.”
Ted remembers many things about HSR from the middle of last century. He remembers a train ride from Toronto to what’s now the Rails End Gallery in Haliburton. He remembers being piled into the backs of trucks with other members of Scouts Canada and all their luggage bouncing along the narrow twisty road dust rising. But then they’d see the signs. They’d laugh. They’d know they were almost there at the camp of nearly 5000 acres and 11 lakes. A camp purchased by the Toronto Scout District in 1946 with a down payment of $25 for $3.75 an acre. The biggest Scout camp in Canada. The third largest in North America.
Today a small yellow sign on the trunk of a pine greets the thousands of Scouts and visitors from all over the world – Ireland America Dubai – whose journey leads them through the front gates of HSR: Welcome Home.
“My son Rick took a look at that sign today and he said yes that’s how it feels. He’d felt like he’d come home” says Ted.
For decades three generations of Morrises have called HSR home at one point or another. In 1953 when HSR was called Camp Kennabi Ted was assigned quartermaster.
Next it was Rick’s turn working his way through the Scouting ranks to work as staff-in-training (called IT in Scouting circles) at HSR in 1979. Two years later James now a Troop Scouter with the 101st Toronto Scout Group worked in the kitchen. Now James’s son Luca joins the ranks IT since the beginning of July. In two days he’ll turn 16.
The older Morrises launch into stories about building dock cribbing with chainsaws while in their bathing suits heating rocks on a fire to create canvas tents filled with steam paddling out into the middle of the lake and shining flashlight beams into the sky learning about constellations: “When this beam gets there in 82 years that’s Sagittarius” the star guide said.
Luca says “I’m still trying to make stories.”
Camp Ranger Kevin Bell says this is the first tri-generational connection he’s seen since he took the reins nearly 20 years ago. But he’s not surprised. HSR is the kind of place that hooks people.
“There’s two different kinds of people” he says. “There’s people that come and they’re hooked right away. Or there’s people that go ‘oh this is pretty where next?’ It’s usually one or the other. They’re either in for life or they’re not.”
Ted Morris was so hooked he bought a cottage a 15-minute drive from HSR passing down his love of Scouts like a family heirloom.
“We grew up through Scouts” says Rick. “Dad always talked about the Scout Reserve.”
Beyond the picnic table motorboats ferry supplies across Kennabi Lake. Yesterday was changeover day. Hundreds of campers (the camp can accommodate up to 600) are out there setting up tents brushing up on their canoeing skills. Lakes are the highways of HSR with most sites – Big Bear Chippewa Point Pirate’s Cove – only accessible by boat.
But being a scout is about more than knowing how to J-stroke or tie a reef knot or start a campfire. To be a scout means to be a part of a not-for-profit international co-educational (since 2012) organization with more than 100000 members in Canada and programming in 19 languages including Farsi Estonian and Tagalog. For years as membership decreased Scouts tried to redefine themselves. In 2010 former chief commissioner of Scouts Canada Stephen Kent was quoted by The Globe and Mail as saying “I tell people all the time we’re not your father’s or grandfather’s Boy Scouts. The world has changed and we’ve evolved with the times as well.”
Camp Ranger Bell with his tattoos and Harley parked beside his cabin breaks all stereotypes of the goody-goody Boy Scout. A Scout since the early ‘80s he was part of the old school he says but embraces the new. The reason Scouts has been able to evolve and increase membership in recent years he says is because its power lies beyond teaching outdoor skills.
“You go play soccer and you can learn how to be a good soccer player” Bell says. “You go to Scouts and learn how to be a better person.”
James stresses that Scouts is a “values-based” program. They’re values that grow with you stay with you. They’re values that are “brought forward into our families” he says forming the essence of what makes Scouts intergenerational.
“Years later when you’re talking to people about their childhoods they’ll say ‘I played soccer I played hockey.’ They list their activities. But then they say ‘I am a Scout.’ It becomes part of how you define yourself not a thing that you do.”
Luca watches his father speak. Listens. Even though he didn’t have much “decision-making power” when he became a Beaver at the age of five he has “chosen not to exit” he says. Like his grandfather father and uncle before him he’s learning how to live in the wilderness for an entire summer teaching younger Scouts sailing rappelling archery. He’s learning how to be part of a tight-knit “clique-free” community.
But most importantly his grandfather says “he’s learning to do what we’re doing right now which is talking around the table.”
Bell his sons Luca – all agree that sitting around a table chatting for an hour on a summer’s day is more important than it looks. Why?
Ted doesn’t hesitate. “I’ll say one word” he pauses. “Communion. It’s a religious word but it’s also a social word. You take time to refresh yourself. And when you take time at the table you’re not only refreshing your body you’re refreshing your mind and your soul. Ideas are important to ingest.”
As camp ranger Bell has watched the transformation of campers in their off-the-grid campsites as they ingest the idea of life without iPhones and Xboxes.
“After a few days” he says “they start to see things differently. They start to seek out stimulus the way we used to seek it out – people.”
IT come and go from the administration office chatting as they pass. Scouts in red canoes paddle up and down Kennabi Lake their voices echoing.
Their voices continue outside the gates along Kennaway Road with signs pointing the way.