The Thamesford camp was successful though less than perfect.
“We had to take one dress each,” remembered Edna, “and we had to wear it whenever we went into Thamesford, which wasn’t often. We couldn’t be seen in Thamesford in shorts. On Sundays, we’d get all dressed up and walk to church. We called it our church parade.”
The Stratford YWCA Camp was led by Miss Grace Dand. She determined who slept where. The girls slept eight to a tent in round tents…bell tents…trucked over from army barracks in nearby London. They slept with feet to the centre and filled their ticks with straw from a barn on the property from which source came milk and fresh eggs as well.
The picture above shows a tent and four campers from the Thamesford Camp led by Grace Dand in 1924.
Edna remembered that staying at the camp cost her father, William James Piggott, who moved to Stratford from Barrie to become superintendent of the Grand Trunk Railway division centred in Stratford, about $6.00 a week. Each group of girls in a tent helped the cook, called “Pappy” Schaefer, serve the meals.
There was low water that year so the river was good only for wading and sustaining the farm’s pasturing cattle. However, the girls were taught to exhale under water by sticking their heads in wash basins. There was also a variety of games, crafts and songs. Miss Dand had youthful councillors helping her including Jean Makins, Josephine Monteith, Elizabeth Hall, Mary Miller and Irene King.
The Purchase of Land and the Naming of Kitchigami. The camps for the girls and for the boys were so successful that Kitchigami with its seven and a half acres was purchased for $500.00 by the Stratford Rotarians from a George McIlwain and established and named on land about nine kilometres south of Goderich. Unfortunately, the girls’ camp had to be cancelled in 1926 because of Grace Dand’s illness. The Rotarians provided not only the facilities but offset some of the operating costs for both the Y camps and the Knights of Columbus camps.
Facilities and Program. To get to the water, the girls had to walk down 98 wooden steps to the beach. Some years there was more beach than others and more stones than sand. Edna remembers early morning dip at 7:00, swimming lessons with Verna Irwin at 10:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. As Dean Robinson notes, Lake Huron was “the biggest wash basin in the world.” In the early years, the girls slept in tents which were gradually replaced by cabins with bunks and electricity and screen doors starting in 1950.
Ethel Cottle helped Grace Dand run the early girls’ camps. Other instructors included Edna Leckie who was in charge of musical entertainment, George Corson who was the swimming instructor and Gay Stirling who taught canoeing. Roy Cole, whose father ran a livery stable in Stratford, came one year with horses to teach the senior girls to ride. Lorna Weber was the nurse; Muriel Sinclair was the dietician.
Here is a photo of young YWCA campers exercising on the beach along the Lake Huron shore in the early days of Camp Kitchigami.