Tucked away on the shores of Lake Couchiching in the Canadian wilderness outside of Orillia, Ontario (just a short drive from Toronto), Camp Wahanowin is a co-educational residential camp for children ages 6-16.
Each year, hundreds of kids from far and wide attend the camp to make friends, learn valuable skills, and participate in a host of programs and activities. An authentically immersive experience, Camp Wahanowin is a completely unplugged setting, designed to nudge its campers out of their comfort zones and encourage their participation in all activities in the great outdoors.
Since its founding in 1955, Camp Wahanowin has provided a supportive community that inspires its campers to become competent, confident, and compassionate leaders. Rooted in the values of respect, community, growth, and tradition, the camp is committed to providing a positive experience to all who participate each year. To that end, its senior leadership team is dedicated to fostering an innovative and motivational environment where campers and staff alike feel safe, cared for, and included.
The programs developed by the camp leadership focus on supporting and empowering campers to cultivate friendships, master skills, and become their best selves. Some of the many activities that take place at Camp Wahanowin include woodworking, mountain biking, archery, baseball, tennis, sailing, waterskiing, rock climbing, as well as pottery, dance, and theatre programs. There is also a brand new multiplex basketball complex boasting regulation-sized courts. The camp also features a large bungee trampoline and dedicated trapeze area (the only residential camp in Canada that does), not to mention a fully functioning café largely operated by the campers themselves. Put simply, Camp Wahanowin prides itself on offering something of interest to all children.
Further information about the camp can be found at https://www.wahanowin.com.
Upon being asked to sit down and discuss what makes Camp Wahanowin so unique and successful, its senior leadership team decided to answer the following questions as a group.
What do you currently do at your company?
As directors at Camp Wahanowin, we oversee all camp operations, everything from camper and staff care to programming activities to site management. It runs the full spectrum and every day is different. On another level, we also strive to inflame the imaginations of our campers and staff, and inspire them to try new things, set and achieve goals, and learn all they can. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but it’s all worth it when we see just how much fun the kids have at the camp every year.
What defines your way of doing business?
Collectively, we define our way of doing business as principled. We abide by a completely values-based model. That is to say, we use our vision and mission statements to guide us through all decisions and situations, and we live out our values each and every day. Our vision is that of a supportive community that encourages our campers and staff to become the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves. Our mission is to realize that vision through espousing inclusivity, encouraging friendships, devising fun experiences, and maintaining a space where kids and staff can come and unplug from the digital realm.
What keys to being productive can you share?
You are only as strong as your team! Keeping everyone—directors, counsellors, support staff, and campers—on the same page and aligned with our core values helps us all ‘paddle in the same direction,’ as it were, and stay focused on achieving our common goal. That common goal, of course, is instilling the next generation with skills, experiences, and fond memories that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Tell us one long-term goal in your career.
To keep the camp flourishing, year after year! Camp Wahanowin is a legacy institution that is home to nearly seven decades of rich history. Our job is to take the best parts of that rich history and tradition and to bring it into today’s landscape and to evolve with the world as it exists now. Remaining rooted in the foundations of overnight camping while staying relevant to the present-day interests of our staff and campers, as well as keeping up with current trends in the industry is the balance we try to achieve.
How do you measure success?
From a business perspective, the camp obviously measures success based on the retention and growth of its families and staff. But more importantly, we measure our success on whether or not we achieve our vision on a day-to-day basis. We are in the people business; the business of helping to create great people and leaders who, because of the friendships they have made and the positive experiences they have had in attending the camp, have developed the competence, confidence, and resiliency to contribute to society and to go on to do amazing things in life.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?
It’s all about developing and nurturing healthy and positive relationships! Our philosophy, at its heart, just might be that simple. Using this idea as the basis for all of our actions and interactions gives us a foundation of optimism, openness, and affirmation. Only good things can come from that.
What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that, as a residential camp, you are accepting the sacred trust of watching over and guiding peoples’ children. As a camp director, you need to earn the trust of your families and staff in order to keep things running smoothly. Open and honest communication and transparency are critical elements in creating and maintaining that trust.
What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?
As a group, we are the ones that plan out the entirety of the camp’s operations. So, for most of the year, we depend quite heavily on iPhones to maintain the lines of communication and stay organized. This is ironic because the camp is proudly tech-free and disconnected all summer long. So, in autumn, winter, and spring, we embrace smartphones and other technology in order to put together the best camp experience possible, but during when the camp is open, we trade in our iPhones for walkie talkies.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Each person has their own story and their own unique perspective. How someone views their community, their neighbours, and the world at large just depends on what lens they are looking through. Though we all may be different, we are all valid and deserving of acceptance.
What does success look like to you?
A counsellor piggy-backing their camper. A cabin cheering at the top of their lungs in the dining hall. An activity specialist honouring a camper with an award in front of the entire camp. A staff member who thanks their supervisor for helping them grow as a person. Midnight cabin stargazing on the sail dock. An early morning waterski. There are myriad moments and scenes that take place at Camp Wahanowin every summer that, just by observing them, show us that our efforts have been successful!