P.A. Days… or some call ’em P.D Days… aka to kids as a DAY OFF SCHOOL!  And what did a bunch of our Summer Paddling Campers choose to do with their DAY OFF SCHOOL this month?

I’m delighted to say that they picked paddling over video games or anything else, joining their summer friends at our “Paddling Campers’ Mini-Reunion Day”.   “Mini” only because, well, we would need a LOT of canoes to be able to welcome all of our Paddling Camp alumni to paddle on one day!  But it sure wasn’t “mini” in terms of fun or friendship or adventure!

We lucked out with the weather — October 11 was a cliché of fall colours and golden sunshine, a postcard-perfect Ontario autumn day that had random people in the street grinning at the sky. While I know our veteran paddling kids would’ve headed out in rain or sleet without a complaint just to get out on the water again before the end of the season, the gorgeousness just infused our reunion with the feeling that there was no better place to be.

Our Paddling Camp instructors, Jeff, Stacey and Jen, and I met up at the Rowing Club and got the kids started “schlepping”, or, ahem, getting the gear to the water.  Sure, we could’ve had the PFDs and paddles and canoes all lined up in the water, but frankly, spoon-feeding our paddlers is not what we’re about. And the kids are into it: along with having paddling chops, these 10-15 year olds also know how to get the canoes safely on and off the canoe trailer, and how to be sure they’ve got the necessary safety gear, and I see such a sense of confidence and ownership in our campers, that, really, it makes the educator and Lover-of-Paddling in me just burble with joy.

So, a quick active game or two to make sure everyone knew each other (they were from various different weeks throughout the summer) and then off paddling to (responsibly!) gather materials for our campfire lunch — kindling, marshmellow- and bannock-cooking sticks, cedar bark. Back at the Peterborough Rowing Club an hour or so later, it was time to make bannock from scratch and start the fire.  Some of our campers had made and used their own fire bows during our advanced Paddling Camp weeks… but on Friday everyone got a chance to try traditional fire-starting.  Let’s just say it is NOT easy.

But eventually, the fire was roaring, hotdogs and bannock sizzling, and the billy on to make Labrador Tea (a surprising hit with campers!). We topped it all off with the campfire classic, s’mores.  Cooking the s’mores in tinfoil was, as instructor Stacey put it, “less than successful”…i.e. very prone to burning, but nonetheless the whole campfire lunch had one of our participants declaring, with a note of incredulity in his voice: “This is even BETTER than camp!”

The afternoon held some happy surprises.  The plan was to head down the canal to meet up with parents at the end of the day at Roger’s Cove on Little Lake… but as many of you now, there are a couple of locks on the way, or, since we hadn’t been able to confirm locking through, in the way. Our budget definitely did not include locking fees, so we were braced to have to portage around. We’ve got one Kevlar canoe, but the others are REALLY heavy, so that wasn’t a great prospect.

So WHAT a thrill and a delight when lockmasters at the Liftlock National Historic Site AND Ashburnham locked us through without charge. That ride down the Liftlocks in a canoe – or any boat – is not to be missed.

The end of the day at Roger’s Cove saw a bunch of happy, tired campers bursting to share the day’s highlights with their parents, and making plans to come to camp next summer.  I like to think of our Museum as a gathering place – in spirit as much as physically – and a community. With the participation of everyone who made our Reunion Day happen — paddling campers past and present, our instructors, the Rowing Club folks, the Lockmasters, and the parents and caregivers who signed up their kids for the day – we made that community even stronger. Thanks to everyone!

Last word to one of our camper’s mum’s, who tweeted after our day:

dafoe tweet