In 1960, when it was learned that tenting would not be allowed at the Rotary Club’s Camp Tillicum, on Lake Nipissing, it was decided that a search would begin for property for the girls to learn camping under canvas. Madeleine Honeyman, North Bay Division Commissioner and Elsa Tafel, Division Camp Advisor checked out three available properties, and chose the property now known as Camp Caritou. The price was $6,000.
Division Council approved the purchase of this site, with its open field, maple woods, and trail-road leading through to Lake Nosbonsing.
The purchase of this property required the Guiders and girls to raise the $6,000 over five years. It was a tremendous task, accomplished by bake sales, teas, and rummage sales by individual units, and small donations from individuals, with the result being that the purchase mortgage was paid off a year early.
A relatively primitive log cabin on the shore provided a storage place for canoes, paddles, lifejackets and waterfront equipment. A spring near the cabin provided drinking water and later some partitions inside were removed to give this building more light. It was used for a few years for Brownies to camp and became known as Brownie House. Members of the Algonquin Regiment (Reserve Unit) constructed a dock on the lake – which has, however, since been removed by ice.
The camp was originally mostly for Guiders and older girls for camping in the field. To service this unit camping, a well was dug at the bottom of the hill. Plenty of good water was available, but had to be carried by pailfulls to the top of the field. This well had been prepared by the father of a Guide who donated the expertise and man-power from his company. The hill was named Honeyman Hill. A contest for a name for the camp was held and the winner was – Caritou.
Along the road frontage, rows of evergreens were planted by the Guides under the supervision of a Lands & Forests (now MNR) forester, along with the help of Denise Armstrong, District Commissioner, and Elsa Tafel. This still stands, and provides a full, natural fencing and privacy from the local road traffic.
Gradually, enough canvas tents, field and cooking equipment for four patrols were acquired.
An annual Camp Caritou Day was held in the spring when all the units shared in a rotation of activities, the purpose being to introduce the camp to girls (and their parents who drove them), and to the Guiders, especially newer ones.
The camp was primarily used in summer, for unit or district camps, and for the camp training for leaders. A swimmer-lifeguard was hired for one or two months to accommodate the volunteer staff of Guiders who came with their girls.
As the years passed, a small building- Irwin House – was placed near the top of the hill to accommodate a refrigerator and to store tenting equipment closer to the site. Ontario gov’t. inspectors required the drilling of a well at the top of the hill. This was paid for by the Division. In 1983, tree and compass trails were designed by the local Nipissing Naturalists Club, covering the whole property, also pointing out nature features of interest.
Camping needs changed over the years, with leaders wanting to camp week-ends during the year, rather than using summer vacation, which was spent with their families. Brownies were allowed to camp under canvas.
From the sale to a local farmer of a field (which had not been used by the camp) across the road, $16,000 was received. An application for a Wintario grant was prepared and from all of these monies, Algonquin Lodge was able to be constructed – in 1995.
This was a large building planned and constructed by the West Ferris Secondary School Technical students, under the direction of their teacher. It can now house 24 girls with 6 double bunks in each of two rooms with a small centre room sleeping 6 adults. It also contains a second, large central room with kitchen facilities, stove, refrigerator, side dishes, pots and two washrooms with showers, toilets, and lowered sinks for the girls’ use. A drilled well and electricity were all included.
With this building in place, units have been using the camp mostly in fall, winter and spring. Snowshoeing was possible and this equipment was added. The camp has also been used for the training of Guiders, including Area Trillium week-ends, camp trainings, District Commissioner training, Area meetings, and nature training activities like Focus on Forests.
Army cadets have rented it. Also rentals have been provided for family reunions, which helped to raise income on many occasions; but, basically most of the income to cover expenses came from girls’ usage. Pre-camps for National – International camps for many Guides and Pathfinders were held as well as Area and Division camps of one week duration in the summer. In 2006 a Division camp had a patrol of eleven girls and leaders from England join them.
The early 2000s saw the completion of the picnic shelter and the construction of permanent latrines for those field-campers not accessing the lodge.
The water system was upgraded and several local members trained to work the new system with regular monthly tests being carried out. The field was cut regularly and the driveway plowed in the winter.
The camp was closed by Girl Guides of Canada in December of 2009.
As the camp is brought back to an operational state, we will endeavor to keep facility and camping fees reasonable and affordable for community groups wishing to experience the great outdoors.
Summarized from a history of Camp Caritou written by Ms. Elsa M. Tafel, May 2010