The summer camp experience has been fodder for film, story, and song and remains one of the iconic expressions of childhood experiences.
And nowhere is that experience better defined than YMCA Camp Thunderbird.
Located 8½ kilometres west of Sooke, Thunderbird has been in operation since 1935 and its popularity keeps growing.
“We certainly get a lot of kids coming from the [Capital Regional District] area, but we also get campers coming here from up-Island, the Mainland, and beyond,” said Luke Ferris, the camp’s general manager.
“We provide a pretty unique experience here, and we have a reputation for a great, fun experience for the kids.”
One of the camp’s features that is hard for others to replicate is the sheer size of Thunderbird’s footprint.
“We’re lucky that, back in 1935, when the camp was started, they had the foresight to get this land. The camp occupies a total of 1,200 acres and, beyond that, is surrounded by CRD parkland on three sides,” Ferris said.
“Kids these days rarely have the opportunity to connect with nature like this, but that’s something we definitely offer.”
To ensure that the outside world is left behind, no phones or other hand-held devices are allowed in the camp – not even for staff.
“That can be really tough for the kids, and even the counsellors at first, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there are ways of being connected doesn’t necessarily mean looking at a screen.”
Ferris said the lasting engagement with nature and the long-term friendships that form when children can interact away from online interference is heartening.
Ferris noted the campers grow to love Thunderbird and that many will return year after year as campers and then move on to become part of the team of 60 counsellors working at the site.
Camp Thunderbird offers a variety of program options, including school trips during the shoulder seasons of May, June and September and both day camps and overnight camping options during the busy summer months.
Children participate in a host of activities that includes swimming, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, orienteering, campfire singalongs, and crafts.
But that’s not to say that the camp is not keeping up with the times.
This year for the first time, campers between the ages of 8 and 11 will have the option of staying in co-ed cabins, as opposed to the previous policy of having to reside in boys’ or girls’ cabins.
“Times change and we change with it,” Ferris said.
“It actually makes a lot of sense. Some campers arrive here with their best friends who might be of the opposite sex. There’s no good reason to force them into separate cabins.”
It’s not the first change of this kind in the camp’s history.
“When we first started, this was strictly a boy’s camp. That changed, too. And it made a lot of sense.”
Camp Thunderbird will host up to 3,000 campers this year (including school program visits) and Ferris is confident that the camp will be around for a long time.
“No matter how much the world changes out there, in here, you can still be a part of nature and have an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.”