The History of Ontario Camp Cherith
Ontario Camp Cherith was the first Pioneer Girls’ camp in Canada. It was begun by Phyllis Cunningham and others from Pioneer Girls’ headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois on a rented site. From 1954 until 1960 the camp used the facilities at Echo Bay and Fair Havens.
Due to the growing interest and numbers of campers attending, it was decided that a permanent site should be found. The present site was located by early Board members, Tom Wilson, Kay Watts, Harry Robinson, and Margaret Robinson, the Pioneer Girls’ Executive Director and camp director from 1959-1973. The price paid for the 100 acre parcel of land, 5 miles north of Walkerton, on the Saugeen River was $4200.
After careful planning during the winter of 1960-61, the camp was ready to receive campers. On opening day, July 9, 1961, there was a modern dining hall, 13 camper cabins, the Palace (now the Craft House), a pump house/maintenance cabin, cooks’quarters and a director’s cabin used also by administration staff. 366 campers attended during the 5 weeks of that first year.
Following Margaret Robinson, Jessica Breski and Dorothy Smith shared directing duties until 1983. Jessica assumed the role alone from 1983 until 1989. During the 60’s and 70’s much of the development of the site for use in the activity programme and the activity programme itself were directed by Helen Robertson. Camping seasons ran 8 weeks until 1984 when they reduced to 6 weeks. However, weekends were added for girls and women in May, June and September during the later 80’s. To mention by name the many people who were involved over the years would be impossible but many dedicated individuals and couples sacrificed much of their time and finances to lay the foundation for the worthwhile ministry at Walkerton.
The original cost of the building mentioned was $38,000 and that debt was paid in full on June 1, 1976. All buildings and additions until 1982 were erected debt-free, paid for through camper fees and gifts from the constituency.
Beginning in 1964, 1000 trees were planted followed by more during the ensuing years.
Throughout the course of Cherith’s history many necessary additions were in many cases constructed by willing volunteers.
Swimming was taught at first in the river, but in 1962 the present pond was dredged to be used for this activity. In 1971, after considerable planning, the present concrete in-ground pool was completed, which provided a much better and safer location and facility for swimming. For several years the pond was used for canoeing, until this activity was moved to the river to allow for expansion of the program.
Two years after beginning in Walkerton, a grass tennis court was laid out beyond the Explorer cabins but this activity lasted only a short time. The area became the present archery range by Sherwood Forest.
Horsemanship was begun in 1962 with rented horses and ponies. To this day this popular activity continues to be enjoyed by many campers.
Between 1963 and 1966, three more cabins were added. They were located on the east side of the road and were used for a Tuck Shop and infirmary. By 1967, however, these cabins were used for kitchen staff, while new buildings were built beyond the dining hall for a larger infirmary and a more secluded cook’s cabin.
Cherith’s 1967 centennial project was recreation hall for indoor activities and all-camp programs. One end had a brick fireplace, added in 1968, while at the other end 2 rooms housed a storage room and counsellor lounge. This building also served as a winter storage room for canoes and other large equipment, until it was completely destroyed by fire in September 1989.
For esthetic reasons the Pilgrim cabins for the youngest girls were rearranged in 1969 from a long line extending along the west side of the road to the present semi-circular arrangement. That same year, another cabin, Cedar, was built to house the Explorer staff.
A much needed Tuck Shop, office and administration building, the Chalet, was erected in 1974. As well, this building was used for morning staff meetings during the years following the construction.
The present barn, built in 1971, replaced a smaller, less than adequate structure. With the continuing interest in horsemanship, the existing corral became too small and the present corral was added.
Over the years the kitchen served well but by 1981 additions were required for food storage and better housing for the cooks. Two trailers were found and adapted to incorporate the dishwasher area and new stoves.
It was felt that more room was needed for maintenance so in 1984 a quanset hut was purchased for this purpose.
Over the early years many hours of selfless, dedicated labour went into site preparation each spring. Trails were cut and campsites developed on the Island and the Point. To the north, beyond the archery range, two river sites were developed and used in the ’60’s and ’70’s for all camp programs and Explorer campouts. These were named Pebble Beach and Stoney Bend.
To meet health standards, a new wash house, the Taj, was built in 1975, and to further expand facilities and upgrade property, the original Palace became a craft house and a new Palace was added in 1978.
In 1985, 60 acres to the east of the campsite were rented to provide trails for hiking, riding and the enjoyment of the nature.
From a very humble beginning in 1961, the site at Walkerton has developed into a fine camp where girls and boys (since 1987) can enjoy the outdoors, learn skills and above all be introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the one Person who has the answers for today’s living. Cherith has always followed the theme, “Christ in every phase of a person’s life”. May it always continue in this way.