Bonfire hosts 80 years of Camp Woolsey

CROWN POINT – The weather moved them indoors, but women of all ages, touched by time spent at Camp Woolsey, celebrated 80 years of history at the Girl Guides camp with a bonfire Saturday, Sept. 7.

Twice a year volunteers organize a clean-up for the popular Girl Guides camp, one in spring and one in fall. This year, following the fall clean-up last week, they celebrated an impressive milestone with a Saturday evening campfire for past, present and future Camp Woolsey campers hosted by the volunteer Camp Woolsey committee.

More than 59 people settled in to Gibbs Hall, after the threat of rain moved the event indoors, to gather around a reasonable facsimile of a campfire, sing songs and reminisce about the camp life.

The group featured women as young as two and many years older than that. There were even a couple of men.

Since 1938, Camp Woolsey has served as a campsite for Guides in the Ottawa area. There is a long history of Guide camping in Ottawa; the first Ottawa Guide camp took place in 1914 at Wychwood. Guides continued to rent sites for the next few decades. According to local association minutes, negotiations regarding a permanent campsite for Ottawa began in 1928. With the help of the local association, the Girl Guides were able to purchase Camp Woolsey in 1938.

The Guides began using the site in July, 1937, with a program based around First and Second Class Tests. The camp was officially opened on July 6, 1939 by Lady Campbell, wife of the British High Commissioner, who named it Camp Woolsey. The log cabin was named Pinhey Cottage after Miss Pinhey, who had been one of the founding donors to the camp.

“It’s a coming together of the past and present,” committee chair Trudi Smith told West Carleton Online just before the campfire was to begin. “If you’ve ever been here you were welcome to come.”

The site is nearly 100 acres with 12 camping sites including five winter sites. The camp is heavily wooded and has waterfront access to the Ottawa River. The weekend capacity is 275 people and the site hosts summer camps, church and school groups as well as day campers.

“It is a busy campground,” Smith said. “It’s something we don’t want to lose.”

Unfortunately, that is a risk. Camp Woolsey is one of several Girl Guide properties at risk of being shut down as the Girl Guides of Canada looks to get out of the expensive property management business. The Girl Guides are in year two of a three-year project to divest itself of similar properties across Ontario including Camp Woolsey.

In a message last November 2018, the Ontario Council ‘confirmed that they would be moving forward with the closing of our beautiful camp on Oct. 31, 2020 and plan to move to sale in 2021,’ a post on the Facebook page Save Camp Woolsey reads.

It’s part of the plan for the Girl Guides to close most of their camps across Ontario.

Andrea Hogue Reynolds is a former camper, a parent of a camper, a volunteer and the lead organizer behind the movement to save Camp Woolsey.

“I was a Girl Guides member through my life and now my daughter goes to the camp,” Reynolds told West Carleton Online.

Reynolds is no longer a member of the guiding organization so there is no conflict with her efforts to save the camp. In 2017 she “started making a stink about it.”

She has organized the Facebook group, created a gofundme page and is lobbying to keep it operating as is. Reynolds says she is not the Girl Guide’s adversary – she wants to work with them to show the need for the camp is not expendable.

“We were given the go ahead to improve usage and bring people back to the camp,” she said. “We want to show them Ottawa and eastern Ontario loves this space. We want it to stay a Girl Guide camp. They have stated they want to get out of property management.”

Reynolds started at the camp at age seven as a Brownie.

“It’s been an important part of my life,” she said. “There are staff here tonight from when I was a camper. These are now life-long memories. Some people I haven’t seen for 15 years and we still greet each other with a hug. I want my girls to have the memories I have.”