Summer Camps

The call of the loon, the drip of water off a paddle, and the crackle of a campfire…

…going to summer camp is a rite-of-passage for Jewish children in Ontario. As early as the 1920s, summer camps that catered to the Jewish community were established all around the province. It was a completely immersive environment where Jewish identity and a sense of community were nurtured.

In the collection of the Ontario Jewish Archives is a vast amount of archival material related to this unique experience. The collection reveals the early days of the community when summer camps were aligned with political movements or branches of Judaism. They were essential spaces for imparting principles and values, and for meeting like-minded community members.

The collection showcases the range of camp activities offered like canoeing, campfire sing-alongs, waterskiing, horseback riding, arts and crafts, dancing, and drama. There was an emphasis on healthy competition, the fun of cabin life, and the value of trying new activities on both water and land.

Today, this annual two-month respite—the quintessential Canadian Jewish experience—continues to have a profound impact on Jewish children. Many summer camps have become intergenerational – with children attending the same camps as their parents and grandparents. They continue to provide joyful and meaningful opportunities for lifelong friendships and growth.

Film sponsored by Jack & Judy Winberg, Nathan & Lily Silver Family Foundation, and the Silber Centre for Jewish Camping.

Archivist Notes

It is quite possible that the summer camp experience is one of the great common denominators within the Jewish community. Whether you were a camper, a CIT, a counsellor, a staff person, or an administrator, it seems that everyone, at some point, has been connected to a Jewish summer camp. These experiences are well documented in our collections. Photographs, films, camper lists, packing lists, newsletters and more, these records tell the story of Jewish camping — a seemingly ordinary activity that has had an extraordinary impact. Camping is also a popular research topic, one that has never-ending avenues for exploration. It is also the topic that elicits the most response from our online community. People never seem to tire of reminiscing about camp life!

2 Responses

  1. I was a latecomer to summer camp. I was in grade 9 when I learned 2 of my classmates were going to Camp B’nai Brith, so I begged my parents to let me go too. Those 3 weeks go down in my memory as one of the memorable times of my life. I made good friends, learned to say the brocha over bread, and so many more things too numerous to mention here. And as the film narrator said, I sent my children to Camp B’nai Brith/Northland, and my daughter followed suit by sending my grandson. In the future, my hope is for my great-grandchildren to experience the wonder of summer camp.

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