When you were a kid, did you ever go to camp? Did you ever work at a camp as part of a summer job? I was never a camper, but over 3 or 4 summers in the mid 1970's, I did get to work several weeks at a camp on Max Lake. Camp Koinonia is located about halfway between Boissevain and the International Peace Gardens in southwestern Manitoba. It is one of three camps that is operated by "Camps With Meaning" (sponsored by a group of about 50 Mennonite Churches in Manitoba. The other two camps were near Headingly (Camp Assiniboia) and Sprague (Camp Moose Lake).
I'd been to all three camps numerous times for various retreats that were organized by the camps program, the Bible school I attended and also the youth group that I was part of in high school. All three camps had their strong points, but my favourite was always the one on Lake Max!
The camp is several miles down a gravel road with many twists and hills. When you pull into the parking lot, there is a large field to one side where various sports activities were held. On the other side there were lots of trees and a path that led to the main lodge. There were also six smaller cabins off to either side for the summer campers and counsellors. There were a few other buildings such as a crafts/nature hut, canoe shed, and a couple of mini lodges for various staff. The camp manager lived in one of the mini lodges and the camp director would stay in the other,
Past the lodge, a path to the left led down to the swimming area. There was never a beach, but there was a bit of room to stretch out along the bank. A dock stretched out into the water and a floating barge was moored a few feet out into the lake.
Another path from the lodge led to the right and branched off in two directions. You could go down to the canoe docks or you could go to a large clearing with a fire pit that was used for cook outs and for the evening campfires.
There was a pathway beyond the fire pit area that led through tall prairie grasses and also went slightly uphill. It led to a smaller fire pit area on a ridge that overlooked the lake, that was also used for nighttime campfires. This area was actually created during one of the summers that I worked there. The view from Koinonia Hill was amazing. Sitting by the fire and watching the sun set over the lake was magnificent!
Inside the main lodge, there were also open dorm style accommodations on a mezzanine and a small cabin style room with bunk beds. Generally the women stayed upstairs and the men stayed in the other room. There is a large area for the dining room and other activities. Off to one side of the lodge is the fireplace area. It is a large carpeted area with two shallow but wide steps leading down on two sides. These are also used for seating area for indoor campfires. The stone fireplace takes up almost a whole wall of this area and is a warm and inviting place, even without the fire burning!
The kitchen wasn't huge but it was efficient. The stove was quite large. 6 burners, a grill top and two huge ovens. Counter space was also good and there was an island in the center of the room with two rows of three sinks on either side. There was also a good size pantry and a root cellar for storage. Most weeks there were four or five people working in the kitchen, One head cook and 3 or 4 assistants. They would prepare breakfast, lunch, supper and evening snack for about 45-50 campers and 20 to 25 staff. They also prepared some meals in an outdoor fire pit and packed food for counsellors and campers to take overnight canoe and camping trips.
Daily activities for the campers usually started with the "Polar Bear" swim at 7:30. The lake could be pretty cold at that time of morning, but the rules were that you had to get completely wet every day that week to become a member of the "Polar Bear Club"! Breakfast was at 8:00, lunch at noon, supper at 5:30 and snack at about 9:00 or so. During the day, the campers and counsellors from each cabin would move among six activities: swimming; canoeing; nature hikes; crafts; archery and Bible Study. Three classes in the morning and three in the afternoon. After lunch there was a half hour rest period and after supper there was a group activity and sports such as baseball, soccer and relay races. After snack there was always a campfire with lots of singing and a short devotional time. The campers were generally pretty worn out by then and most were quite willing to be in bed by 10:30 or 11!
Looking at the website for the camp, I see many changes in the thirty years since I've been there. Renovations/additions have been made to the lodges and several cabins. All the cabins now have names. More activities have been included, such as; Climbing Wall, Zip Line, Mountain Bikes, Volleyball and Basketball courts.
The main lodge and mini lodges are also available for group rentals in fall, winter and spring. Some of the winter activities offered are; Broomball, Cross county skiing, Tube Slide, Skating/hockey and Air hockey.
Tomorrow; some of my memories of working at Camp Koinonia!