‘We Will E’er Remember Our Days at Beaver Cove’

There is a camp at Beaver Cove, Beaver Cove.

And there we always love to roam, love to roam.

And spend our time mid laughter free

Where we were happy as can be.

B- e-a-v-e-r beaver, we will never want to leave her

To our happy days we’ll never want to say goodbye.

Hurray, hurray, campers, hurray, hurray, hurray.

And as we go along our way, on our way

We will e’er remember our days at Beaver Cove

Where we forgot our cares and woes! (Loud cheers)

(Writer unknown; sung to the tune of “There Is A Tavern In The Town.”)

 

Indeed there was a camp at Beaver Cove.

Kamp Beaver, as it was known, was founded in 1919 by Rev. D.H. Doyle, then pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Sydney, which included what later became St. Joseph’s, Our Lady of Fatima and St. Anthony Daniel Parishes. For years, well into the 1970s, boys and girls from all over the area made their way to Beaver Cove each summer — for two weeks of girls’ camp and two weeks of boys’ camp.

The camp offered kids, especially from the Sydney area, the opportunity to enjoy plenty of fresh air rather than hanging around town for the entire summer, and so there were long lineups at the CN station on Dodd Street as campers waited to board the train to Beaver Cove. In later years, campers rode a bus, which picked them up in front of the Lyceum on George Street, and the song noted above would be sung many times over before they reached their destination.

 

Kamp Beaver. Boys’ camp. Photo courtesy of The Beaton Institute (Click photo to enlarge)

 

Food & Board

It was usually one of the curates from Sacred Heart Parish who managed the camp with staff assembled from seminarians, former campers, teachers and nurses, all of whom gave up some of their vacation to help out, as did arguably the most important person, the camp cook. These included a Mr. Melanson during the first years of the camp, later on Albert Ley, followed, in 1943, by Mae (Garfield) MacLellan who, 12 years later, had as her assistant Jimmy Campbell (my brother, actually). Later Philly MacDonald came aboard and eventually took over from Mrs. MacLellan and I was his assistant for a couple of years. There were some fun times in the camp kitchen that’s for sure, despite the hard work of feeding up to 144 hungry campers.

Chapel, Kamp Beaver. (Photo courtesy Jean Pienszinski)

Chapel, Kamp Beaver. (Photo courtesy of Jean Peinsznski)

Accommodations in the early years were pretty rustic, with eight or more campers occupying one of a number of huge old army tents, sleeping on straw mattresses, washing in the brook before morning Mass and generally giving up most of the amenities of home. The first real scare came on the campers’ first night in the tents — which, for some reason, were set up unreasonably close to the railway tracks, so close that when the train rolled through Beaver Cove blowing its whistle, first-time campers awoke in terror, convinced it was bye-bye for them.

Fr. Hector MacDonald, who came to Sacred Heart in 1952, spent about eight years in charge of Kamp Beaver and had many willing men from the parish — and women who came along to feed them — to continue the construction begun in 1949 of a new chapel, rec hall, a new cookhouse and dining room and a new Homasote hut to replace the old shack that was home for whatever cook happened to be on staff.

They eventually added  flush toilets (yes indeed), housed in a long building and separated by walls but still very much outhouses, though of a more refined nature. Jim Thompson, Rannie Gillis, Dave Robertson, Ronnie MacKinnon and others gave up their days off and especially weekends to do the work. Eventually, fundraisers were held to raise money for the camp, including a draw for a car and an annual summer picnic, which parishioners supported with their time, their energy and their money. The cost of feeding a large group of hungry campers was high, as one would suspect, although the parish took up the slack. Campers unable to pay the $10.00 fee for two weeks at camp would never be denied the chance to attend, and $2 or $3 would be deposited in the canteen for them so they could have a treat along with the other kids.

 

What’s cooking?

Mae. MacLellan and daughter Jean MacLellan (youngest ever camper)

Mae MacLellan and daughter Jean (MacLellan) Peinsznski. (Photo courtesy of Jean Peinsznski)

Jean (MacLellan) Peinsznski recalls her days at camp as the “happiest time of my life” — except for marriage and five children, although Jean insists she would have loved to continue spending summers at camp! The daughter of Mae MacLellan, the camp cook, Jean (the youngest in a family of eight girls and one boy) accompanied her mother to camp from the age of three, later attending as a camper and then as a member of staff.

Her mother, whose great sense of humor helped sustain her no doubt, cooked up three meals a day for campers — porridge being the breakfast mainstay; stew, hamburger, baked ham, fish for main meals; and all the bread and peanut butter or strawberry jam (or both) a kid could eat. Sundays meant no porridge, but packaged cereal and oranges, (a real treat), ham for dinner and boiled eggs and bacon for supper. The kids lined up outside the dining hall before taking their regular seats on either side of the long tables that accommodated them and were served by cook, cook’s assistant and staff, who ate later in their own dining room off the kitchen.

That peanut butter and jam came in large pails and the milk in stainless steel cans, kept cold in a huge walk-in fridge, part of a large kitchen dominated by an industrial-sized stove. Lynch’s bread (from the family bakery in Sydney) was delivered regularly and eaten in no time, definitely a staple at every meal. Mrs. MacLellan once recalled making date squares as a treat, only to be told by one camper that “there were beans in her date squares.” Having run out of dates, she had substituted some raisins, a trick quickly uncovered by the young gourmet.

Fr. R.C. MacGillivray, pastor at Sacred Heart for many years, would arrive at camp at least once a week with ice cream for all, a treat the kids welcomed with loud cheers. (One ingenious camper became famous for eating his ice cream, jamming his mashed potatoes into the container and trading the resulting “vanilla” ice cream to some unsuspecting boy for a different flavor.)

 

(Photos courtesy of Jean Peinsznski and The Beaton Institute)

 

Do Drop Inn

Days went by too quickly in Beaver Cove. Campers were on the go as early as 6 a.m. to be ready for 7 a.m. Mass, after which came breakfast and inspection. Oh yes, inspection, which meant they had to present neat and tidy tents or cabins, usually with their sleeping gear set up in front in various ways that might win them extra points or even the flag that was given out each day. Most of the campers gave their cabins names — the “Do Drop Inn,” the “Duck Inn” — and took pride in having the best display. Following inspection, all campers formed a half circle and waited patiently for the the winner of the flag to be announced, anxious to have it wave in front of their cabin all day.

Former staffers, like myself and Jean, who were fortunate enough to have attended both boys’ and girls’ camp, have to admit that the boys were definitely more active, spending very little time in their cabins (which had replaced the old army tents but were also built close to the tracks). Instead, they would be out on the fields playing baseball, basketball, boxing on a stage that had been set up (and which we girls used for dancing, especially after music was piped out over the camp), or swimming in the Bras d’Or. The girls, although many of them played ball and loved the swimming, and some more adventurous ones donned the boxing gloves, also enjoyed just hanging out in their cabins, reading or talking or doing their hair.

However, the girls excelled at campfire, held each evening either outdoors or in the rec hall, where they sang individually or with a crowd. On the last night, the staff usually performed in skits making fun of themselves and other staff members much to the delight of the campers. Many of us could still belt out some of the songs that were part and parcel of a stay at camp.

The day before camp ended saw a mini-Olympics of a sort, as campers participated in races, soft-ball tournaments, and more. Competition was keen for the trophies that were awarded on the final day. A “Best Camper” award was also given out and campers vied for the title as a fitting end to their two weeks at Kamp Beaver. A highlight was the ball game between staff and campers, at both camps, with the losers compelled to jump off the wharf into the lake to the delight of the winners.

 

End of the line

Attendance at Kamp Beaver began to wane coming into the 1970s. According to John Campbell’s history of Sacred Heart Parish (With Our Hearts and Hands), in 1972, only 11 boys were interested in attending camp, although 88 girls went, and 1977 saw 88 boys and 100 girls attend. Gradually, though, the Kamp’s days came to a close and in 2000, the property was sold with the money going into “a trust fund for the youth of Sacred Heart Parish.”

Still, get any older (or really old) former campers together, and they’ll recall those days, as do Jean and I, with tremendous fondness and will join in a rousing chorus of “There Is a Camp at Beaver Cove.”

There sure was!

 

Dolores Campbell

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.

 

 

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