The Eye of the Tiger – A Fishing Tale

Written by Monte Hummel (Camper and Staff, 1960-69)

In the summer of 1962, Monte Hummel hooked this ~14kg muskellunge from a canoe near Freddie’s Island. The fish was stuffed and mounted on Birnie’s recommendation, and it has been with Monte ever since. Monte recently had his muskie touched up, and he got in contact with us to share the story of the iconic catch.

Hi Polly!

Ahhh… pre-camp, opening-up time, before the CITs arrive, just the absolute BEST time to be there… Small work group huddling in the kitchen itself for meals, changing helical springs on the cabin beds, solignum siding, sanding canoes, building the DGH with Andy [Hamelin]… And the camp bay is never more peaceful. Good fishing too (muskies in June!).

Give it all my kindest regards Polly.


The Eye of the Tiger – A Fishing Tale

First written July, 1997

I just happened to luck into this fish – virtually anybody could’ve caught this thing. Neil [Campbell] and I were out fishing for bass from a canoe before camp. I used a little daredevil, about an inch and a quarter long, red and white striped spoon, with little size 12 trout hooks, and 1 treble hook, and I had a 6 pound spinning line. It just so happened that as Neil was paddling, I was trolling up the inside channel, and I hooked this thing. First I thought it was a channel cat; it took us about 45 minutes before we even saw what it was, because it was a 6lb test line you can’t hog a fish like this around too much. I never got more than about 40 yards from the fish, the fish went up and down the inside channel. It went into Smiling Pool eventually. We really travelled a lot of country, and this fish was basically towing the canoe – I was just trying to tire it out.

About an hour into catching it, we actually got it to the point where it was tired enough that I cold roll it on the surface. Neil had this old landing net. We got the fish in the net, lifted it up, the fish bowed like a U and fell right through the net. The netting was rotten, and the fish was so heavy that it fell right through. Then it got all excited and sounded again. So now I was holding the rod, the line went through the net, Neil was holding net, the fish was down there. So we had to feed the rod, tip-first, all the way through the net while the fish was on.

Somebody went and told Birnie that we had a really big fish on. He got the Volvo, which was an inboard-outboard water ski boat, and I eventually transferred into that, because this fish would not fit sideways in a canoe, it’s too big for that. Birnie cut the engine and sat there smoking his Sweet Caps, giving me a little gratuitous advice. Then we finally got a gaff, slipping it under the gills, and lifted the fish, which was about 36 pounds, into the boat. About two kicks and the spoon popped right out.

It was quite an adventure. For me it was a very iconic experience. Having been raised as a fisherman, as a kid one the things you dream about it catching a muskie. They’re very rare. It’s like a rite of passage for a young kid to catch and land a fish this big. It was a turning point in my life! It was something I’d dreamt of doing – and here I was 15. It was an awe-inspiring experience. Everyone was going, “I’ve never seen such a big fish,” and all that sort of thing.

I don’t believe in trophies now, but there was no question in my mind that I was going to have it mounted. I’ve only seen one other fish like this, and that’s the one that’s up in the Dining Hall. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to bequeath this to Camp Hurontario.

Reflections on Camp Hurontario

Written by Rob Thomson (Camper and Staff, 1952-66)

Hello Pauline,

This is Rob (Robbie) Thomson, writing from Prince Edward Island. We’re house-cleaning a little, and I’ve been sorting through a file of written personal treasures.  I came across a piece I wrote in 1997 — memories and observations about my 14 years of experience at Hurontario.

I think I probably wrote it at the prompting of Clair Campbell, who was compiling a book about the Georgian Bay. Her father Neil and I were in Group 1 together, and we have remained lifelong friends.  Another fellow who was in Group 1 in 1952 was Ralph Heintzman with whom I reconnected a few months ago at the annual Symonds Medal occasion at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre.

I’m now 79, starting to feel my age somewhat… looking back on what has been a wonderfully full life that has taken me all over the world. And I am very conscious that a lot of what I am and what I have been able to accomplish can be traced back to the formative experiences of Hurontario.

So, herewith, I share the ‘Reflections’ I wrote a quarter century ago.

Rob T

Reflections on Camp Hurontario

First written July, 1997

I went as a 7-year-old in 1952… missed one year when I was about 10 or 11… and finished off in 1966, I think, as a university graduate.  Not quite: my wife Mar and I honeymooned there a bit in June of 1968.

Out of the millions of camps, why did I go to Hurontario?  Because Birnie and Sylvia Campbell replied quickly to one of my mother’s mail-out inquiries to many camps, and because Hurontario had a discount rate for brothers (Jamie and me).  
My mother was looking to kill a couple of birds with one stone: after a year of widowhood, to give herself a break from single parenting and to give her two boys some masculine connections. It worked, and we went back year after year.

Arrival at Camp

Picked up from the Midland City at Manitou Dock by Birnie and Helen in the original camp launch… had to step gingerly across the main T-dock which was being rebuilt after the first dock (built without cribs, I guess) had disappeared with the ice. For the first while, whenever we had roast beef or ham, Mrs. Hodgetts would stop by our table to help me cut my meat.

I’ve just quit riding the Prince Edward Island ferries (because of the Confederation Bridge). They reminded me of the trips on the Midland City and later the Penetang 88. Kids on the ferries spent their time in recent years playing the video machines… but I can’t remember how we occupied ourselves for the hours it took between Penetang and Manitou.

One year, as camp closed, the Midland City broke down and was about four hours late; buses got into Toronto after midnight, I think, and I got an unexpected stay in the Ford Hotel. A couple of years later, soon after the shift to Parry Sound and the use of Scott’s/MacIsaac’s boats, bad weather forced a hold-over: scores of young people had to be put up overnight in the Brunswick Hotel. That night we all went to see Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in “The Vikings”, the music of which is still in my head.

Georgian Bay Magic

Why does the Georgian Bay have magic for people? First guess: it’s so elemental: rock, water, sky… with trees and bushes and flowers clinging precariously but tenaciously to very little in the way of sustaining security. Symbolic of life, or what?! Sure, there’s beauty: my eyes water to think of it. But it’s not really ‘beauty’ because of the stark and even threatening nature. For me the feeling is more awe. There’s a feeling akin to standing alone on the prairies and feeling very small and vulnerable in a majestic but somewhat overpowering surround. I recall looking up into limitlessly starry heavens and being awed… but I have even stronger memories of paddling in the open… looking a half-mile to the right and seeing a vein of quartz disappear into the water, then a half-mile to the left and seeing it wave itself up out of the water again, a reminder of millions of years of geological age… looking down and seeing ghostly pale shadows of a shoal, then nothingness: a touch of scary tinging; a whole lot of wonder.

I always marvelled at the dramatic fluctuations in water level. A strong west wind could push an extra six inches of water into camp, enough to float a poorly beached canoe. In the years following 1952, when you could take a motorboat through Loon Portage, the water drained further and further away from the high-water mark left indelibly on the rocks until you could see that once the water had been five feet above where it was.

That fluctuation caused a serious threat in the early sixties. Early one summer a man started building a cottage on a point of the mainland within the camp bay. Flabbergasted, Birnie confronted him and found he had actually bought the property. How was that possible when the Camp owned that whole stretch of mainland? Because an earlier map showed that point, jutting out from a relatively low-lying connection, as an island.

Kerry Baskey, Bogey, Nick Ahern and I went out — twelve miles, I think it is, into the open — to the Western Islands in the mid-afternoon. They were reputed to be an amazing nesting place for blue herons and other birds. They sure were. As we went, there was an almost total eclipse of the sun, and as it progressed, the birds flocked from the mainland back to their roosts for what they thought was night coming on.

Life as a Camper

Are kids still so fascinated with raw nature? As youngsters I think almost all of us genuinely revelled in the rambles and wadings through bush and swamp, seeing with our own eyes that there were carnivorous plants and getting startled by the rattle of a Massasauga. But we even got a big kick out of what were the only Saturday-night movies in the early days: Winston Hibler narrating Walt Disney nature documentaries such as The Living Desert, with the magic of time-lapse photography of flowers opening.

In the very early 50s there was a regimen to make us think very concertedly about character, duty and other semi-spiritual elements of life.  When breakfast was done, Birnie would introduce a theme, plant a few thought-provoking questions, then turn on the record player with a hauntingly gentle melody (which I still hear in my head — it was Frantisek Drdla’s “Souvenir”) and have us put our heads down on our arms on the table… and meditate.

Sunday chapel was not only painless; it was rather good.  The sermons were good human-relations and pantheistic stuff, with much of their impact deriving from the lessons of nature we witnessed through the week and indeed could literally see from our seats around the Flagpole. Sunday-morning laundry was almost always a genuine pleasure: give me a bar of Sunlight soap and a flat rock and the easy comfort of a circle of friends just chatting.

Kraft Dinner with canned tomatoes, Lipton chicken noodle soup, a peach upside-down cake done (or partly done) in a reflector oven… Picking blueberries and taking them to the kitchen so that Tada could cook a pie for our group.

Fun in the water: Behind the curtain of Moon Falls. Gunnel-bobbing. Shooting The Blue Chutes on the French River. Through the underwater tunnel on Deer Island. Dock tag around the cribs of the Main Dock. Spookiness in the water: the ghostly, green-grown timbers of the Wabuno at Wreck Island.

Mid-1950s on the Moon River. We stopped for lunch and a swim at a dirt road which crossed the river by a Bailley bridge (temporary army bridge). There was a big steel culvert which we rolled up onto the bridge.  Who cared that we were all naked and blocking the road: we were in the middle of nowhere, right? Woops, a car came… so we all dashed around to the other side of the culvert pipe. And a car came from the other direction! We dived into the river, and the counsellor had to get up from cooking lunch and roll the culvert off the bridge. It’s a little busier today, that road: it was the Trans-Canada Highway being punched through the bush south of Parry Sound.

There were memorable train rides between Sarnia and Toronto and Parry Sound… and north from Parry Sound to the French River. Big thrill: flushing a pop bottle out the toilet while traversing a high trestle.  

Memories about electricity: the throb of the pumphouse in the evening… Early conservationist Sylvia Campbell making the late-evening trek through the central part of the camp to turn off any wasteful lights… Birnie’s wonderful sermon about different ways of approaching things based on the metaphor of the Lister and the Shepherd generators… the excitement, tinged with some regret about the passing of an era, as they blasted rock and put up the poles to bring hydro-electricity into Hurontario.

The old songs: the Whiffenpoof Song, You can’t get to Heaven, Swimmin’ Without Women, the Camp Canoe Trip Room (Quartermaster’s Store), Ich bin der Musikant, Birnie singing The Bowery, Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio stuff… and the one that can still bring a moistening to my eyes when I sing it biking to work, Up in the Islands.

Memories on Staff

A person could have a huge variety of experiences over the years. I counselled, I built cabins, I repaired and built boats, I drove the first water-ski boat (lasted about two days before I was bored and asked for a switch). Most of one summer I spent on Birnie’s National History Project, evaluating textbooks at a desk in the Gas House and interviewing campers over Tang-and-cookies to assess their awareness of Canadian history and the sources of their knowledge.  

One became a ‘real man’ as you grew from camper through CIT to full staff-person. One of the signs of that happening was unloading the Trimac when it brought in the summer’s initial stock of food supplies. What a feeling: putting a 100-pound bag of flour on your shoulders and showing people you could almost scamper up from Flagpole Point to the storeroom behind the kitchen.

The excitement and terror of asking a waitress out for an evening paddle. Cathy MacLean responded to my “Would you like to go for a paddle?” with “I’d love to, Rob, but I don’t really want to”.

Practical joke fun. Ross Hodgetts was at camp to show off his new bride Daralyn. A special sailing race was arranged for the returning Pinchin victor of yesteryear.  We rigged the boat draw, so that Ross got the snipe to whose centreboard I’d attached a 25-pound anchor hanging underwater by five feet of rope. Ross got a perfect start… then watched in mounting frustration as every other boat slipped past him over the next fifteen minutes.  

Boathouse parties, especially before campfires when we were trying to script and learn a skit. Kerry Baskey introduced the technique that would be used for years of skits: the narrator related that Cinderella was left home alone, stomping the pad in anguish… and Kerry pounded his feet on the ground, petulantly repeating “stomp, stomp… anguish, anguish”.  

Most foolish party preparation ever: I think it was to be a good-bye for Ross and Daralyn Hodgetts. We decided it should be a Christmas party. We needed a tree. Bogey said he knew where the really perfect ones were… we had to go all the way down to the inland lake at the foot of the bay. So, he found one: the four-foot top of a forty-foot pine which we had to chop down. Hmmph… some biologist, eh!

Walking to Iron City for the annual baseball game… and also to use the telephone to find out your grade XIII marks in early August.

Naming places. Some were the creation of legends around mythical heroes — Phil-Joe and the DRC. Some were pure fluke and of rather little depth. A staff cabin I helped Andy Hamelin build came to be the DGH… why? Because I kidded Andy about the open-air pattern he got from a more prosaic building he had done the previous year: this cabin was simply a “Deluxe Garbage House”.

Why were horses called horses? I know I watered them for a summer, but what was the origin of the expression?

The sound of flying squirrels hitting the roof and running the length of the boathouse… gulls, especially after the dumping of garbage… the excited late-afternoon cry “Transport!” to call the GH&T CITs to unload.

Games: kick-the-can, capture the flag… later, liar’s dice — learned from Luke Sewell in a tent by the Post Office. (On a somewhat higher plane, Luke also introduced many of us to Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet”.)

Campfires. The skits, the songs, the tricks like mysterious fire-starting — 35 years later I found that they all still worked wonderfully with 1990s Wolf Cubs.

Using campers to move rocks — collecting them in various little bays, throwing them into the barge while boys took turns riding the aqua-board behind the camp launch. Everyone in camp spending a quarter-hour carrying rocks from the barge to the low spot in front of the office as fill for a sea-wall… Flagpole Point covered in red and grey canoes as a hundred campers sanded off that year’s coat of paint.

I suppose I was in my late teens and had been a staff member for a half-dozen years before I consciously realized that Hurontario, in Birnie Hodgetts’ scheme of things, was not just for — nor even, perhaps, primarily for — campers, the boys from 7 to 14.  More importantly it was for teens as we came, through being counsellors and other staff-members, to learn responsibility and leadership and self-reliance.

Memorable People

Leo Leblanc, who carried a refrigerator on his back, with tumpline, up from the central beach to the kitchen… Tada and Toyomi, of course, and Mike and Rino: a kitchen-full of people whose lives had been so altered by the second world war… Tom Lawson, campfire-runner extraordinaire… Luke Sewell, Knobby Noble, Dave Dawson… Andy and Jean Hamelin.

Nine O’clock Lake: Neil Campbell catching a 20 ½ inch bass… catching two fish at once on a jitterbug.

An example of skills of the local people who lived with the Bay: Cap driving the Trimac through the gap into Sandy Bay to offload gasoline at the Gas House, riding the prop over two shallow rocks on the boost of his own stern wash.

Half-dozen of us spent a Mantovani-Room evening chatting with, and an afternoon of actual painting with, A.Y. Jackson. At 80 he clutched the brush in an arthritic claw, but — son-of-a-gun — his work at the end of the afternoon was somewhat better than mine.

Lasting Influences

What were the lasting influences and effects of Camp Hurontario on someone like me? An awe for the natural world, interest in art, woodcraft skills, woodworking/carpentry and repair skills, thoughtfulness — yes, thinking about things instead of taking it all for granted: becoming conscious that there were problems and issues and wonders and feelings beyond the immediate physical present… having to plan, imagine and question, consider implications, think of others.

Exposure to other kinds of people and types of life: discovering people with rustic northern skills on the one hand… and urban sophistication on the other, people with artistic skills and sensitivity, people of different nationalities — Japanese, Italian, Ukrainian — who indicated there was a world wider than the one we knew in rural Canada.

A sense that the key elements of life are relationships with (i) the physical environment we live in and (ii) the social environment of other people we live with.

Here’s what I wrote Birnie in 1987 shortly before he died:

“The point is that — as is probably true for literally thousands of others who are now helping in their various ways to make Canada a decent and promising place to live — I am, to a pretty considerable degree, a product of influences you created.”

Hurontario Reunion – save the date!

Reunion skating party campers and staff

Saturday, November 25

Calling all Hurontario campers, families and friends

It’s reunion time! A skating party at Upper Canada College rink – for Camp Hurontario campers, family and friends

Date: Saturday, November 25
Time: 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Place: William Wilder Arena, 200 Lonsdale Drive, Toronto

Summer friends! See yourself in the slideshow! Games, pizza, and much more!

Please call 416-488-2077 or email to let us know you’re coming.

Open House

Boys leaping off the dock at Hurontario

Wednesday, November 15

Camp Hurontario will be hosting an open house event for all new or prospective parents and campers to meet our directors and learn more about the camp. Light refreshments. All are welcome! For more information, please contact us. Please RSVP to let us know that you will be attending.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023
7-8:30 p.m.

Rosedale United Church
159 Roxborough Drive
Toronto, ON

RSVP now!

RSVP to Open House 2023

The Hood River in the Arctic

Hood River

Tuesday, November 14

This summer Hurontario will be offering the amazing Hood River wilderness trip for campers who are 15, 16 and 17 years old! Take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Canada’s true north.

We will be holding an information meeting on Tuesday, November 14, at 7 p.m. at Polly’s home at 1 Ridge Drive Park, Toronto

Please call 416-488-2077 or email us to confirm that your tripper and at least one parent will be attending.

At this meeting, we will go over dates, cost, travel, and any questions you may have. Photos and videos from past trips will also be on display! Come and discover what this amazing trip has to offer.

**Please let us know if you are interested **

The Map-Maker

The mapmaker

Hurontario alumnus John Hartman’s Georgian Bay, written by another Hurontario alumnus, David MacFarlane.
(The Walrus, Sept. 1, 2014)

Looking back at summer 2022 – and forward to 2023

The summer of 2022 was so exciting as we welcomed the return of campers and staff to camp island. The energy and enthusiasm were contagious as we all greeted old camp friends and met new cabinmates! What a joy to be back at camp. Every day, groups were paddling to an island for a biology cookout or a game of camouflage with another group. The winds blew and sailors harnessed the breezes out on Twelve Mile Bay. Everyone was keen to whip down the zip line and jump off the top of the big water slide! The fun went on and on.

Hurontario’s long established tripping program returned in full force in 2022 – with white water trips to James Bay; river adventures on the Coulonge and Dumoine rivers in Quebec; senior trips to our North Camp in Missinaibi Provincial Park, which were only some of the adventure-of-a-lifetime trips.

A group of senior trippers experienced the incredible rapids, wildlife and camaraderie found while tripping on the Hood River in Nunavut. Imagine tripping by canoe from the headwaters of this mighty river north of Yellowknife, all the way to Bathurst Inlet. From catching big lake trout daily, to seeing peregrine falcons circle the river and exploring the area around Wilberforce Falls (the largest falls in the Nunavut), it was an adventure never to be forgotten.

This fall, Hurontario’s skating party reunion was once again an opportunity for families to enjoy a fun afternoon skate; for our campers and staff from the summer to get together and a chance to see many summer faces in the slideshow while munching on yummy pizza. Thanks to all who joined us. And now we are busily planning for the summer of 2023- bigger and better than ever. We are very excited! With a wonderful returning staff, days filled with activities in the outdoors and an opportunity to share with camp friends and make new friends, we know it is going to a summer not to miss. Register now and save your spot. We look forward to seeing you back!

Great news from Camp Hurontario!

Building on our amazing success this past summer, we are really excited that our 2022 registrations are now underway.

Looking back on our 2021 season, it was obviously a very different camping season for Hurontario, as we dealt with the realities of the pandemic’s social distancing requirements, masks, vaccination limitations and testing challenges. We also faced unanticipated late transportation and staging area issues, but thanks to our incredibly flexible and versatile staff we were able to rise to the occasion and creatively meet those challenges.

Our major “pivot” to one week family camps was met with tremendous support from many Hurontario alumni families, as well as a host of new families to whom the news of our new family camps quickly spread. In addition to our amazing family camp weeks we also enjoyed a two week special session for vaccinated 12 to 14 year old campers. That option also filled overnight

In addition, we were able to maintain our long established whitewater tradition by sending off two groups of senior campers in each of July and August on special trips on the Dumoine and Coulonge Rivers.

Given vaccination limitations then in place, we were unable to offer spots to all our previous year’s campers in 2021, but we are really excited at the prospects of doing so in 2022! 

Looking back, it is obvious that much of our success last year was due to the adaptability and commitment of our great Hurontario staff. We never ceased to be impressed by how they all stepped up to the challenge and morphed into excellent family camp counsellors, much to the delight of our family camp parents and campers.

Hurontario 2021 provided a wide range of our traditional activities to our full contingent of amazing new camper families and alumni families who brought their energy and enthusiasm to everything they did. Musical performances and skit-making brought out everyone’s creative side, delighting and entertaining the entire camp. It really was a blast!

And now we are looking forward to a full return to camp as Hurontario plans for its 75th year! We are so pleased to have had so much support from so many this past summer. We thank you all enormously, and we look forward enthusiastically to 2022!

2022 Hurontario Wilderness Trips

Moise River

The Hood River in the Arctic & the Moisie River in Labrador

Again, this summer, Hurontario will be offering two amazing wilderness trips for campers who are 15, 16 and 17 years old! Take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Canada’s true north.

We will be holding an information meeting on Monday, November 29, at 7 p.m. on Zoom

Please call (416) 488-2077 or email us to confirm that your tripper and at least one parent will be attending.

At this meeting, we will go over dates, cost, travel, and any questions you may have. Photos and videos from past trips will also be on display! Come and discover what these amazing trips have to offer.

Please let us know if you are interested!

Greetings from Texas…

Georgian Bay islands

My mother was Leone (Suydam) Upton, only daughter of James and Winifred Suydam. The Suydams owned the east side of Portage Island (Cognashene area) from the 1930s to 1970s. Their only daughter married my Dad, in 1937, and we resided in New Orleans Louisiana.

My grandparents introduced me to Camp Hurontario in 1957; I loved it and, at my request, I returned the summer of 1959. Loved the 10-day canoe trips both times. The 1957 trip included a stopover at my grandparents place on Portage Island, for hamburgers, hotdogs, and cookies, and then on to the mouth of the Musquash River.

In 2002, my wife bought me a 17-foot aluminum canoe for Christmas. She and my now 44-year-old son have been fishing in it; my grandchildren will ride in it next summer. Have rented many cottages over the years near Pointe Au Baril & the Lighthouse, but the pandemic has left us bored in Dallas. I am equally proud of my Canadian heritage; my grandfather, James C. Suydam, was a Canadian Army officer in WW1, then built a successful construction company. Suydam Public Park, in the 400 – 500 block of Spadina Road was built & donated to the City of Toronto by my grandfather.

Since I haven’t been to “The Bay” since 2017, I thank every friend in Cognashene & elsewhere for sending photos; our last “Bay Trip” was to a rented cottage near the old Ojibway Hotel near the Pointe Au Baril Lighthouse. My goal is to see the campgrounds one more time with my family.

Warmest regards,

“Butch” Upton

Photo: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons