Peace and Love at Camp Manitou
The 1960s was a decade when love and
peace were in the air and flower power convinced
millions that we could change the
world forever. It was an idyllic time.
This past summer, I was reminded of
some of those tranquil feelings when I visited
Camp Manitou is owned and operated by
Mark Diamond and Jeff Wilson, two very soulful guys.
It is an expensive place to send your children,
and I was expecting the stereotypical “rich
kids” camp with attitude and wardrobes befitting
Paris Hilton. What I found among the
campers instead was a deep sense of warmth
and caring in which love abounded.
Camp Manitou, meaning “place of great
spirit,” is indeed a beautiful place with all the
amenities one would want. It is described on
its website as being “nestled in the great
northern forests of Muskoka, carved out
along iridescent blue lakes and rivers.”
Indeed, Camp Manitou has superlative
facilities and activities, including the Manitou
Tennis Academy, progressive art programs
and theatre, but the attraction to the
place seemed to come more from the very
positive energy I sensed everywhere.
My re-evaluation of the camp began when
I spoke to the campers by the waterfront,
helping to launch community week, when
campers and staff visit nearby towns assisting
in tikkun olam activities.
I spoke about the gift these kids have being
able to attend a northern Ontario paradise
and reminded them of the impoverished Israeli
children and terrified children in Darfur
who would never have such an opportunity.
They listened closely, and it was evident by
their attentive looks that they agreed. Later,
dozens of Manitou staff and campers told me
with great sincerity that they understood how
fortunate they are.
At a counsellor-in-training (CIT) workshop,
I listened to story after story from the
CITs about their response to our world’s humanitarian
needs. Not a single voice espoused
the view that the homeless are grubby
and deserve the life they live. This was unusual,
as this hardened view is frequently
expressed by some young people in groups I
The morning after my arrival, I saw a
young man sitting by my cabin playing a
guitar. We played some blues together and
soon enough a group of five or so other
staffers joined us.
Over the next hour, I listened to their unreserved
and honest descriptions of Camp
Manitou. They said Mark and Jeff bring a
certain tenderness and kindness to the place
that can be felt throughout the grounds and
within the cabins.
One girl said the first day she arrived at
camp, she was terrified at not knowing a
single person. To her delight, the campers in
her cabin greeted her with hugs and kisses,
welcoming her to a summer that would ultimately
change her life.
The older campers, I was told, and was
witness to, were dedicated to helping the
younger ones. It was wonderful to watch a
nine-year-old camper run up to a 15-year-old,
hug her and then be lifted in the air and spun
around. Love was everywhere. I could hear
it, see it and feel it.
I think Camp Manitou is the real deal. At
the camp, helping others grow seems to be
more powerful than raw competition. Things
such as scaring the younger kids late at night
and drug problems do not seem to be inherent
in the fibre of the Camp Manitou experience.
Quite the opposite.
I believe that what exists at Camp Manitou
is an authentic communal bond, similar
to the one of the 60’s, that allows young people
to learn about love, beauty and understanding.
I only wish I could be young again
so I could experience it for an entire summer
of my own.