Adventures in the Wilds of Haliburton

Recounted from Country Life – August 29, 1995.

“Be Prepared” is the motto of Boy Scouts the world over. However living up to this expectation can often be a daunting challenge to even the most resourceful individuals. Two troops, one Canadian and one American discovered this harsh reality as they camped in the wilds of Haliburton in the summer of 1947. In 1947 the Haliburton Scout Reserve officially opened and among its first visitors was a mixed troop consisting of boys from the 101st Scout troop from Windermere United Church in Toronto and a troop from Barrington, Rhode Island. Together they drove up the bumpy, winding trail to a large property east of Haliburton village that was recently purchased by the Toronto District Scout Council.

The Canadian boys had invited the Americans in appreciation of a camp held the previous summer in Rhode Island. The camp turned out to be quite a shock for the visiting Americans as well as the host Canadians. At Camp Yowgoog, in Rhode Island all the roads were paved, all toilets were flushable and the buildings resembled something straight out of an architectural magazine. The Scout Reserve by contrast boasted a dirt road “straight from heck” and “dig your own toilets”. Their visit started with a trip down the camp’s dirt road after which they were greeted with their next form of transportation – a lifeboat from an ocean liner. Their gear was piled into the “Queen Boat” and they slowly made their way across the lake to an isolated location. Bill Hare remembers the trip well. “They took us to this point of land, abandoned us there and said ‘Go to it.’” This would be their first introduction to what was later dubbed “Big Bear Point”. There they found nothing except what Mother Nature provided.

“The contrast was quite dramatic,” notes another of the original campers, Reg Perkin. “The Americans weren’t used to roughing it in the bush.” However the Canadians were far from camping experts. The weekend camps and hikes in Toronto and the surrounding area had hardly prepared them for this type of wilderness camping. The two troops however were equal to the challenge. They forged a campsite out of the rocks and trees, one which has lasted to this day.

The ties of friendship formed on that weekend have also lasted the test of time. Recently a group of those original campers gathered at the Kennisis Lake cottage of one of their former leaders, Owen Cliff. During the last 50 years they’ve gathered quite frequently. Initially these meetings were at their children’s weddings. Then 10 years ago, when they realized all their children had been married off they decided to meet at their cottages. These meetings have continued every two years, each being hosted in turn by one of the original campers.

Gathered at Mr. Cliff’s cottage are the following former Boy Scouts: Mr. Cliff, Mr. Hare, Mr. Perkin, Ross Partridge, John Howard, Dick Day, Dick Brown and Ian Bett. Two of their original group, Allan Sproule and Graeme King, have passed away. Also absent in person but not in spirit is Jack King, the man who inspired them as Scouts and as men. Bill Hare fondly remembers Jack. “He had the gift of coming up with the impossible dream and working with the Scouts to make it happen.” Back in the days before cartoons and Nintendo it was much easier to interest the boys in nature and hiking. On Saturdays they would all gather at the church with their knapsacks and head off for the wilds of Toronto.

One day, Mr. King asked “How many of you have seen the ocean?” No hands went up. He continued on by saying that if they worked hard and raised the money they could accept the invitation of the Barrington Scouts to visit their camp in Rhode Island. The boys took Mr. King’s challenge and earned the needed money by collecting papers, baby-sitting, selling Christmas cards and trees, delivering flyers and even putting on a concert. After the money was raised they boarded the train at Sunnyside and went to Rhode Island. This experience however did little to prepare them for what awaited in the Haliburton Highlands. Mr. Cliff remembers that initial drive. “We had one fellow with a Hudson car. He “bottomed-out” in so many places. The road was almost impossible. Luckily, Jim Moore had put up all these signs – such as Streetcar Crossing – to make it more interesting.” After crossing the lake in the “Queen Boat”, the boys were dropped off and told to make camp. This meant digging fire pits (to cook meals) and finding spots for kybos. All this work really brought the two troops together and helped develop a sense of teamwork and character in the boys.

Their adventurous spirit was bolstered by a casual indifference to the potentially dangerous elements. Mr. Partridge recalls the Canadian boys’ attitude. “We hadn’t seen a bear outside a zoo but we’d never let that on, of course.” No one had ever seen a snipe either and probably none have seen one of the elusive creatures to this day. This however didn’t stop them from going snipe hunting at night. The boys encounter with the wildlife did not end with the timid snipe. One day two American Scouts came running down a hill, yelling at the top of their voices. Apparently they had gone to visit the kybo only to find it already occupied by a bear. Later, with each retelling, the boys were closer to the bear before “running away” and the bear kept getting growing in size.

Despite the momentary fears, the boys all delighted in their Haliburton experience. Years later many of them would pass their knowledge on to the next generation of Scouts. All of the them today feel indebted to their years in Scouting and look back fondly on their unique chance to be camping pioneers in Haliburton.

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