The Lions’ Children’s Camp in Udora has familiarized children with nature and fair play for 40 years already.
It was 1971 when Martti Hyhkö, who had just recently arrived from Finland to Canada, decided that the Finnish-Canadian children should have the opportunity to explore the nature and meet their peers, despite of their economical and family background. Hyhkö who had worked in Finland as a teacher and principal and hence organized camps before, thought that a summer camp indeed might be the best forum for this idea.
And so Hyhkö who had founded the Toronto Suomi Lions Club asked the other lions to support the children’s camp with him. A perfect location for the camp was found in Cedar Park, the Finnish summer resort village Cedar Park in Udora, only an hour away from the hectic Toronto.
– As a matter of fact, I established Toronto Suomi Lions Club just so that they could sponsor the camp, Hyhkö laughs.
As the years went by the main responsibilities jumped with Martti Hyhkö from Toronto Suomi Lions Club to the other Finnish Lions Club in town, Toronto-Finlandia Lions Club. Still the idea of the camp has remained the same and also Toronto Suomi Lions Club is still supporting the camp.
– The initial idea was, and has always been, that the kids would have a camp close to the nature, where they have the chance to explore the surroundings no matter what the economical situation of their families was, Martti Hyhkö explains.
With the support of both of the Lions Clubs and Cedar Park, the fee to attend the camp has been kept low, so that everyone would have the chance to participate.
– The fee is minimal, but it is still possible to get remission of it, if needed, Hyhkö says.
“Simplicity Is the Ideal”
Martti Hyhkö organized the first camp basically by himself, but since then Seija Hyhkö has also been actively involved in the process. In addition to the Hyhkös, the counsellors and the ladies (emäntä) found amongst the members of the Toronto-Finlandia have been running the camp.
– I remember when we had 6-year-old twins at the camp one year and when they exited the main building at one night and looked at the sky, they said that they have probably never seen the stars before, Martti Hyhkö recalls.
In turn, Seija Hyhkö remembers that years ago one child at the camp had never been on the countryside before. Therefore the animals in the forest and all the bugs were a great amazement to the child.
– At first, the kid was afraid of spiders but when the camp was about to end and it was the time for farewells, I noticed that the kid was hiding something in their hand. When I asked to show me what it was, a little frog jumped out. The kid thought that a frog would make a great pet in the city, Seija Hyhkö laughs.
Martti and Seija Hyhkö also share a story of a boy who attend the camp one year and said that during the camp he had managed to forget the existence of television completely.
– Simplicity is the ideal in camp life, the Hyhkös say.
All kinds of adventures and unexpected situations have made the camp life special during the years; the power cuts caused by storms, the water usage prohibition during one camp and the flood that took the bridge leading to the sauna with it during another. Still, no accidents have ever occurred during the camps, since safety is the priority number one for the organizers.
– We oversee the kids all the time - they are never alone. Also, we have very specific geographical boundaries, which the kids are not allowed to cross all by themselves, Seija Hyhkö emphasises.
Singing, Playing And the Miracles of the Outdoors
The core programme of the one week camp has stayed pretty much the same over the years, after all, there is no need to change the concept that works: Crafts, sports, swimming and exploring the nature outside of the city form the foundation of the camp.
– We also have the nightly campfire and lots of singing, Martti Hyhkö says.
Seija Hyhkö adds that the different kinds of games are an essential part of the camp.
– Martti and some of the counsellors, like Paula and Samantha Glass, have the tendency to invent new games for the kids. And they are not always the most common ones, she says with laughter.
Changing themes bring variety to the camps held every summer and the theme of the year creates frames to the other activities.
In addition to living with the nature, one of the fundamental goals of the camps is to teach the kids how to do things together as a group. This is achieved best specifically through the different games.
The culmination of the camp week is the Friday Show, which allows the children to use their creativity as they are responsible for the programme of that show. The Cedar Park residences and the parents of the children form the audience for these musical and theatrical performances.
Nowadays, approximately 35 children from the age-group of 6-12 participate the camp annually. Guiding and watching over such a group cannot be done by two adults only. That is why the camp has its counsellors, who themselves have also experienced the camp as kids.
– We train our own counsellors. They have spent their childhood summers attending these camps and as teenagers they attend the camp as counsellor-trainees. Only after this are they allowed to become actual counsellors. Of course, we also do the criminal background check for them – that is something we have done long before it became the law, Martti Hyhkö explains.
He says that some of the best counsellors have managed to get such an interesting and time-consuming jobs as adults that they cannot attend the camp anymore.
– And then there are those who wish to be a counsellor even though they have never been on the camp as kids, Hyhkö says and adds that the ideal is that the counsellors can be found among the camp’s own children.
Prepare for Some Celebration
This year, the Lions children camp will be held in Udora between the 10th and 17th of July. Since this is the 40th anniversary year, there will be some special programme involved.
– Because of the anniversary, the Friday Show will be extra-special this year, Seija Hyhkö reveals.
During the camp weekend, which means June 16th and 17th, a reunion of the former camp kids, now adults, will be held. The Hyhkös say that many of the kids of Finnish-Canadian, and especially Finnish-Torontonian, families have attended the camp at some point, so the reunion can be quite a big one.
– We meet the former camp kids at different occasions every now and then. Even though they are adults now, it seems that everyone has a vivid memory or two of the week at the camp. It’s amazing how much a week can affect person’s life, Martti Hyhkö says.