The Fort

I have greatly enjoyed reading novels by Bernard Cornwell in the last 8 months, after intentionally avoiding them for years, assuming that he wrote pop historical fiction. I began with the Sharpe series and continued with the Saxon stories. I recently found The Fort at the local public library. The Fort tells the story of the battle of Majabigwaduce, which took place in northern Maine between the English navy and American army and navy during the American War of Independence. The English navy sailed from Halifax in the summer of 1779, with about 800 soldiers and three small ships, with orders to build a fort and secure the port of Majabigwaduce for England. The government of Massachusetts responded by sending an attacking force of 18 warships and 21 troop ships to remove the English threat from the Maine coast.

The American navy was led by Commodore Saltonstall and the ground troops by Solomon Lovell, a member of the State Assembly. Within 24 hours of arriving on the Majabigwaduce River, the Americans had captured an island gun-battery which could prevent their ships from entering the harbour and landed their armed forces and captured the heights above the still semi-built Fort that was being constructed by the English under the leadership of Brigadier MacLean. What followed was disaster for the besiegers. Saltanstall refused to attack the harbour without the assurance that the army would first attack the fort, citing the logic that even if he defeated the three English sloops, he could not take the fort. Lovell, in turn, refused to attack the fort without the assurance of a naval attack on the harbour. For more than two weeks, the indecision continued, as American morale slowly declined. Finally, a relief fleet of English ships arrived to relieve the siege and, rather than allow any of its ships fall into English hands, most of the almost 40 American ships were burned. Majabigwaduce was to become the last British post surrendered to the Americans during the War of Independence!

As I was reading The Fort, I thought about how decisions are taken at Nominingue. The senior staff meets each morning for a briefing and to hear reports as to what is happening in each sphere of the camp. The lower camp section director will make decisions for the campers and staff in lower camp. The decisions he makes rely heavily on the feedback and communication he receives from his head counsellors and counsellors. In the same way, the program director makes decisions which affect all camps, as well as the waterfront and the tripping program. On canoe trips, although one of the counsellors is the trip leader, the counsellors frequently consult and work towards a consensus decision.

Decision making works when roles are clearly defined and processes are in place to deal with regular, daily occurrences as well as with special situations. Before heading out on a canoe trip, staff need to consider alternative campsites, have planned exit routes for every stage of a trip and been able to discuss options in case of emergency. It is all the advance planning that ensures that decisions are made in a timely and effective manner, with the result that those decisions are accepted by the staff and campers involved.


Diplomatic Incidents and the Integration of International Campers

My mother is one of my great resources for reading material. She belongs to a couple of book clubs and reads a wide variety of books. This book was chosen as a light read while she was on a recent vacation. Diplomatic Incidents by Cherry Denman tells about the ups and downs of life in the foreign-service, living around the world and raising one’s family at the same time. Cherry Denman has spent over twenty years as the wife of a British diplomat, spending time in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Beijing and Libya. At times a travel log, frequently a source of advice to prospective travelers and families planning to live abroad, and regularly quite funny, Diplomatic Incidents is an interesting and worthwhile read.

Denman describes the difficulties of arriving in a new country, without friends, without a home, without knowing the language or the customs, and then to try to fit in gracefully. This experience is lived each summer by some campers who come to Camp Nominingue. 20% of our campers come from outside Canada, from the States, from Mexico, from Europe and from Asia. Some of these campers do speak English or French, but some do not; some are arriving in Canada for the first time. At camp, they will live in a platform tent. During the day, the walls may be rolled up to let in the sun and the wind. The rain will fall on a fly above their heads; birds and squirrels will be heard and seen from their beds. The culture shock that these campers face must be incredible!

There is a chapter about toilets in foreign lands. Being from Britain, Ms. Denman is used to having a seat, and a clean one, when it is time to use the lavatory. She describes her attempts to use public washrooms with “holes” in the floor requiring the user to squat, surrounded by inquisitive locals; trying to find privacy in the desert and other bathroom adventures. At Nominingue, most campers set off on canoe trips, from an overnight down the lake to a 10-day trip in Parc de La Vérendrye, two hours north of camp. On some camp sites, the Park service has dug a pit toilet and placed a wooden box with a hole in the center. Sometimes there is a toilet seat with a lid, sometimes not. Usually there is a cloud of flies swarming the hole. On other campsites, there is no toilet box, and going to the bathroom requires digging a hole. For a camper heading off on his first canoe trip, I imagine that going to the bathroom can be a novel and maybe forbidding experience.

Nominingue is a friendly place that works hard to integrate these new campers into its culture, its traditions and routines. Its staff sets the example and each tent counsellor helps the campers in their tent find their place at camp. The wide variety of learning experiences also provide campers from varied backgrounds with the opportunity to find their niche, to thrive and to feel accepted in this new environment. Many of these new international campers will return year after year to Nominingue, enriching the lives of all the campers at the same time as Nominingue, camp life and the Canadian wilderness enrich and change their lives!