Homesickness at Camp – Let’s Discuss Transitions

First time at camp? First time away from parents? First time your children are away from you? It’s a great time to get some perspective on homesickness, and where you fit in.

Let’s look at the first two questions. They’re for your son. The third… for you. But there’s a connection that you need to make. It’s a time of transition for your son – and a time of transition for you. It’s prudent for you to do some research on what causes homesickness… because it’s completely natural for us to feel this.

Get comfortable with the subject and realize that we often project our emotions on others. If you need some time to get cozy with your feelings – then do so. And then find a time to address this. Has your son done a sleepaway with friends or with family? Maybe stayed with grandparents or cousins? Those are excellent first steps. But remember – if your son says he wants to go to camp, that he’s excited, and that he’s ready – then try to support those feelings and encourage his independence. Still concerned? Talk to us and we’ll see if this is actually the best time for him to start his camp journey (sometimes campers are more ready than their parents).

But pay attention to the transitions! It’s important to set up expectations and to address them. Homesickness often manifests itself when there’s a “sudden” transition or separation from home. Work on eliminating the “sudden” part and find a way to transition the fear of the unknown into the excitement for new adventures.

And homesickness at camp hits at different times of the day. For some, it’s morning – others meal times, others before bed or quiet time. Those are all transition times. At camp, we acknowledge that transitions are difficult for some campers – and we ensure that counsellors stay aware and see how your son is dealing with his feelings. And we don’t ignore them! Many of our counsellors are former Nominingue campers… they know what it’s like to be at camp, and they have been trained on how to help campers manage these feelings and focus on the positives… adventure, friendship, learning, exploring… and more!


Autism Spectrum | The terrible diagnosis, then the hope

As seen on

Just over 17 years ago, we received a diagnosis that placed our twins between moderate and severe autism. For those unfamiliar with the autism spectrum, it is the penultimate rung in terms of severity on the scale that defines this neurodevelopmental disorder.

In addition to the fact that this diagnosis sawed us both legs, it forced us to act quickly. The boys were just over 3 years old, they didn’t converse, they weren’t toilet trained, and they could burst into bloodcurdling tantrums at any moment.

We worked with a team of professionals in occupational therapy, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy). In the bigger weeks, we were juggling over 20 hours a week of therapy. We also had support from the age of 4 from the Riverside School Board who placed the boys in an adapted class.

The boys integrated into regular classes in primary school. By the age of 10, their language and motor skills had progressed to the point where they were up to the appropriate standards. The hours of therapy decreased and gradually the boys integrated activities without requiring special supports.

The choice of activities in which the boys participated was dictated by two simple principles: have the boys shown an interest in the activity and is the organization providing the activity ready to host them? We have never hidden the fact that the boys were affected by the autism spectrum. In the vast majority of cases, agency representatives were very accommodating and wanted to understand how they could contribute. The list of people and organizations that have helped us is long, but the following organizations have contributed significantly to their progress: Baseball Saint-Bruno/Saint-Basile, Hockey Saint-Bruno, Camp YMCA Kanawana, Club Olympia Longueuil, Montreal Children’s Theater , South Shore Athletics, Saint-Bruno Figure Skating, Camp Nominingue.

They are on the way to achieving full autonomy. The two have even managed at different times in their careers to represent their college or university in sport while maintaining good academic results; Andrew in cross country and Johnathan in fencing.

Family support was also instrumental in the progress of the boys and helped to provide moments of respite. In particular Grandma Michèle who allowed us to continue our professional journeys. The efforts required to support the development of children with special needs can lead to a feeling of isolation because they make it difficult to practice social and sporting activities. We were very lucky that the boys had an older sister who understood their reality. Alexandra understood the impact of the specialists who surrounded the boys so well that she chose to progress in a graduate program in research and clinical psychology to help other children and families.

We are aware that our journey is unique and that each family with children with neurodevelopmental disorders has a different experience. We wanted to share our journey because at the time we received the diagnosis, the prognoses were very vague and it was difficult to formulate any real hope on the success of the interventions and the investments related to them.

A Franklin Find

The December 2014 edition of Canadian Geographic is dedicated to the discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s two ships, on the ocean floor in the Arctic this September by a team of Canadian archaeologists.


On May 19, 1845, Sir John Franklin and 128 sailors and explorers left London in two sailing vessels, the Erebus and the Terror, with the goal of crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Northwest Passage. They were never to return. By 1850, the first rescue missions set out from Britain, the United States and the Canadian colonies in attempts to find the Franklin expedition or to solve the mystery of their disappearance. Although the first successful passage of the Canadian Arctic by ship occurred early in the twentieth century it wasn’t until the twenty-first century that one of the lost Franklin ships was found.

Much of Canada’s history revolves around big and small voyages of discovery, beginning with the first Europeans crossing the Atlantic. From the time of the early settlement in the St-Lawrence valley to the present, subsequent European explorers pushed ever further into the Canadian wilderness, as they followed the rivers and lakes across the country. Obviously, these European explorers did not really discover anything…they simply retraced routes that the Inuit and other First Nations had travelled for centuries.


Nevertheless, the December edition of the Canadian Geographic is fascinating as it analyzes the find of the HMS Erebus from many different perspectives. It describes the contribution of archaeological evidence, modern technology and Inuit oral traditions in the successful of the ship this September. It compares the historical impact on Canadians, on Americans and on the British of the Franklin expedition and its aftermath, and the modern impact on all of us. It is well worth a read, although it leaves one with just as many questions after reading the edition from cover to cover as when one started.

Since 1925, campers at Camp Nominingue have travelled the lakes and rivers of the Petite nation, the Rouge and the Outaouais river systems and their headwaters, living adventures and testing themselves against those who travelled the routes before them. F.M. Van Wagner chose the site of the Camp because of its location in prime canoe trip country. He felt that every Canadian should have the opportunity to travel the historical paths of Canada – its lakes and rivers, by canoe! Each summer, 85% of the campers that arrive at Camp follow in the tradition of earlier campers who paddled these waters. Today, 20% of the campers at Nominingue arrive from outside of Canada to live this truly Canadian experience.


J. R. Warren, who was a camper and counsellor at Nominingue from 1939 through 1949, described what he felt about these canoe trips.

I became Radisson and Des Groseillers, and all the explorers who wandered far and wide throughout North America searching for whatever it was that beckoned them. Every time I climbed into the canoe, I was off on an expedition of untold danger and indescribable hardship – the intrepid explorer shining light into the black hole of the still undiscovered New World. Every time I set foot on a portage, I was a coureur des bois off to Rupert’s Land in the quest of the wealth of limitless furs.


I know that my imagination has wandered this way on canoe trips as I paddled across a never-ending lake or hiked a trail with a canoe on my shoulders. One doesn’t need to be the first to experience the excitement of discovery nor the thrill of having met the challenge of the wild! These are daily occurrences on a canoe trip…

Passion, Connection & Creativity

After being silent for two years, I decided that the Quebec Camps Association Conference was a good time to begin blogging once again!

The opening speaker at the conference was Jean-Pierre Brunelle, a physical education professor at the University of Sherbrooke. The topic of his talk was “Arousing Passion”. He spoke about the growing concern regarding youth becoming more sedentary and he identified passion as the key element in getting people to participate in physical activities.IMG_4938

Each year, the ACQ aims to invite one special guest from the wider camp world. This year, Jim Cain was that special guest. He is the author of 10 books on team-building, teamwork and teamplay. I attended two sessions with Jim. The focus of the sessions was community building through various games, especially games relying on a minimal number of props. Each of the games that Jim taught us included, among its multiple purposes, the development of connections between people.

The closing speaker was Jean David who works currently for the Carnaval de Québec, but who spent 15 years as marketing director of the Cirque du Soleil. One focus of his presentation concerned the importance of creativity. Within a company, the only limitation that exists is that which we put on our own imagination and dreams. Pursuing this thought, he identified creativity as the frequently forgotten essential element when governments speak about the great issues that confront society – health, economy, education and the environment. His take is that, with creativity, solutions to problems in every sector become possible. Without creativity, there is little hope for change.IMG_4968

I left the conference with new ideas and new energy, with the certainty that Nominingue has all the elements in place to make a summer camp experience come alive for the boys that attend. Whether it is a game of pony express on the first evening of camp or Western Night or the Tribal Games, or the wide variety of instructional activities from nature study to climbing to woodworking to archery to lacrosse, there are so many opportunities to get kids active and moving, and to experience activities that arouse their passion.

Camp Nominingue is a place of connection – between the campers and the counsellors and between the campers. The small tent group of 5 campers and a counsellor, and for most of the younger boys a junior counsellor as well, ensures that there is a comfortable community of friends and adults for each camper to rely on. Nothing works better than a canoe trip, an experience that most campers experience at Nominingue, where age-appropriate challenge and adventure are encouraged, to build team spirit, trust and confidence in a small group. At the end of each month, the tribal games and voyageur games expand the connections of the campers to include both older and younger campers, as each camper’s community expands to include maybe the whole camp.

Camp Nominingue has been in operation since 1925. Campers have been enjoying a program that works for boys for 90 years. It would be very easy to continue doing the same activities and take the same approach that was used last year or 40 years ago. Each summer, approximately 70 counsellors and 100-200 campers attend Nominingue at any one time. Our goal must be to listen to staff both new and old, to give campers opportunities to express their ideas and opinions, to identify new ideas, to provide the support required to implement such ideas, to be open to taking a risk, and to take on new challenges to ensure that Nominingue stays relevant and exciting for the next 90 summers!

I thank Jean-Pierre Brunelle, Jim Cain and Jean David for reminding us about some of the key goals that we must set for ourselves at Nominingue and at camps across Quebec.

The Shadow Thief

Le voleur d’ombres or The Shadow Thief by Marc Levy is a touching novel. It tells the story of a boy at two periods of his life: as a twelve year old arriving at a new school in a new town, whose father leaves home suddenly, his first love, and his early struggles to find his place in the school and in the town; and later as a young adult at medical school, falling in love, dealing with his mother’s death, and finding his true love. Le voleur d’ombres is a love story: the love between a mother and son, first love between a young boy and girl, and a son’s love for an absent father.

The protagonist of the novel has a unique power. He discovers that he can steal the shadows of others and that the shadows will speak with him and reveal the deepest wishes of their owners. With this power, he sets out to make the dreams of his friends come true. He helps the school janitor break free from his past to pursue his dreams. He helps his best friend break free from his parents’ expectations and go to medical school. He helps a fellow medical student discover why a young patient is starving himself to death. In the end, he also learns to pursue his own dreams.

Camp Nominingue is also a place where dreams can come true! Our philosophy is to give campers opportunities – to learn new skills, to meet new people, to take on new challenges, to make decisions each day about how they will use their time and what challenge they want to take on. For two hours each morning, campers participate in our instruction program. Each week, campers choose two activities from a list of twenty activities. For six days, campers will learn new skills and practise previously learned skills to increase their competency. Twice a day, at free swim, campers once again have a choice: they may go for a swim or take a canoe or a sailboat out; they may play tennis or take a basketball from the equipment room and head down to the basketball court; they may also choose to read a book or play tetherball back in the section. A staff: camper ratio of 1 to 3 ensures that each area is adequately supervised at this time of day.

Canoe tripping has always been an important activity at Nominingue, but it is important that each camper make the decision to head out on a canoe trip. Although we encourage the boys to go on a canoe trip, the choice is entirely up to them. Canoe trips range in length from an overnight up to 10 days. Length of canoe trip is dependent on the age, skill and experience of each camper.

Making friends is an important part of camp. Campers are put in small groups in their tent – 5 campers to a tent up to the age of thirteen and 3 to a tent for fourteen and fifteen year olds. Most canoe trip parties are also made up of 5 campers. These small groups are ideal for promoting the development of friendships among the campers. The counsellors are also present to help campers who do not find this process quite so easy. With 20% of the campers coming from outside the country and another 25% from outside Quebec, friendships formed at Nominingue are often from across the country and around the world.

We can’t promise that every camper will achieve all of his goals, take on every challenge or find a best friend…but Nominingue does provide every camper with the opportunity to do so. Achieving one’s dream is within the grasp of each and every camper!

Stonehenge 2000 BC

Stonehenge 2000 BC by Bernard Cornwell is not his best novel. At times the action seems to drag, quite atypical in a Cornwell novel. This might be because there is no history to rely on to move the plot forward. What is known about Stonehenge is based on archaeological work. Nothing is known about individuals who lived at that time.

The central character in the story is Saban, who is a young boy at the start of the story and is chosen the new chief at the end of the novel. In between, the chief, Saban’s father, is killed by Saban’s brother who, in turn, is killed by another of his brothers. At the same time as the struggle for political leadership is taking place, the gods are also at war to control the minds of the communities. Slaol, the sun, is the dominant god in Ratharryn, where Saban lives, while Lahanna, the moon, is dominant in the neighbouring community of Cathallo. It is these political and religious conflicts that lead the community of Ratharryn to build Stonehenge. The gods are omnipresent in the lives of the people, require regular sacrifice to be appeased and determine every major decision in the community.

When I was a camper at Nominingue in 1972, I can remember attending chapel on Sunday morning and occasionally singing a hymn found in the camp songbook. Chapel was definitely non-denominational, and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic campers could comfortably attend. Chapel is still non-denominational in 2012, and no hymns appear in the current songbook! Even the use of the term chapel is a bit of a misnomer. Each week, a group of campers or staff are in charge of chapel. Planning begins with the choice of a theme. “Friendship”, “Courage” or “determination” might be the chosen theme in a particular week. If middle camp is in charge of that week’s chapel, middle camp staff and campers will choose stories and songs related to the theme. Campers and staff who have something to say or who want to be involved, have the opportunity to speak to everyone in attendance.

For me, the best part of chapel is the chance to sit quietly looking out over “Bloodsucker Bay” or “Bullfrog Bay” if one wishes, reflecting on the theme, watching a duck or beaver swim past, listening to the wind blowing in the trees, feeling the heat of the sun slowly warming the morning air, and just enjoying the peace and beauty around me. Chapel is an opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for!

Young Thugs

At Camp Nominingue, we are lucky in that most of the campers that we work with are very unlikely to ever become street gang members. In his book Young Thugs, Michael C. Chettleburgh identifies socio-economic forces as the primary reason why young people join gangs. Despite this, the motivations that lead young people to join gangs are the same motivations that lead youth to form groups, join teams and seek out friend groups.

Young Thugs is divided into two parts: the first focuses on the lure of street gangs, and the second on confronting and controlling street gangs. I found the first part particularly interesting and the second part a bit drier. Michael C. Chettleburgh stresses the necessity of dealing with the root causes of gang growth by improving job opportunities for youth in low income areas and improving programs to integrate immigrants into Canadian society. Chettleburgh also explains clearly how our prison system contributes to gang expansion and how the system is failing to rehabilitate any of its inmates.

The drive that leads young people to join gangs exists in all of us: we like to live in packs; we like to have a group where we can share ideas, protect and care for each other; we look for the camaraderie of the group, to enjoy recreation opportunities, and collaborate in the achievement of a common purpose. For many campers and staff at Camp Nominingue, this is exactly what camp achieves! Most campers stay at camp for two to three weeks. They live in tents in groups of five until the age of thirteen and then in groups of three until the age of fifteen. All campers learn and practice new skills in the company of other campers who are interested in learning similar skills. There is a canoe trip for everyone who wants to experience one – a group of five campers and two counsellors set out from camp for 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 days, paddling, portaging and setting up camp each night at a new site.

For many campers and staff, Nominingue becomes their second home. In the fall, after the return from camp, camp stories fill their conversations. During the winter, camp friendships are maintained through common interests and activities, and modern technology. In the spring, planning for the summer and dreaming of canoe trips and other fun occupy the thoughts of many. There are numerous factors that contribute to the creation of this second home: the bonds of friendship that are forged on a challenging portage or while sitting in the tent during a storm; the support of a thoughtful counsellor in a time of need; the exhilaration of success achieved in learning a new skill, in winning a difficult challenge, or in coming together as a team.

The Archer’s Tale

The Archer’s Tale or Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Battle of Crécy, fought in 1346 between the English and the French. It is however, much more the story of an archer, Thomas of Hookton, who joins an English troop of archers operating as mercenaries in France, after the destruction of his village. During the course of the novel, Thomas learns about his family history, of his father’s flight from his family and of his family’s Cathar heritage. He also learns of the primacy of the longbow in fourteenth century warfare.

The Battle of Crécy occurred towards the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. The English were generally victorious, relying on their virtual monopoly of the longbow, against the French who relied on their knights and the crossbow. Eventually, canons and muskets would replace the bow as the primary weapons used for killing the enemy in warfare from a distance. The skills that enabled the English to dominate the battlefield were no longer required and archery went into decline.

Archery has been part of most camp programs forever, as it has at Nominingue. Archery was likely included as an activity in camp programs because of its use by the First Nation communities in Canada, but its use certainly pre-dates European arrival in North America. At camp, we teach the use of a re-curve bow as well as a compound bow. We shoot at targets. The goal is not to practise a hunting skill, but to practise a sport that requires concentration, aim and some strength, and a sport that is included in the summer Olympics.

In 2012, with the release of the movie Hunger Games, many bow shops noticed an upward spike in the purchase of bows, and archery clubs have experienced an increase in membership. I’m not sure that archery at camp will change much – we will continue to replace old and well-used equipment; we will continue to teach the skill of the archer; and campers will continue to enjoy the thrill of hitting the target…dead centre!

My library does not have the subsequent novels in the Grail Quest series, so I guess I will have to buy them. I am hooked!


Anthill by E.O. Wilson is a fascinating book. It tells the story of Raphael Semmes Cody, the only child of a poor couple from southern Alabama, who as a child falls in love with the wilderness tract around Lake Nokobee; who develops an interest in observing animals of all kinds, in particular ants; who is supported through university by a well-to-do uncle with designs on grooming him for the family business; whose undergraduate thesis becomes “The Anthill Chronicles”, which describes the rise and fall of ant colonies on the edge of Lake Nokobee; who chooses to go to Harvard Law School to specialize in environmental law; who finally joins the land development company whose intention is to develop the land around Lake Nokobee.

“The Anthill Chronicles” tell the story of one particular ant colony that, due to a variety of factors, expands far beyond the size of a typical ant colony. It grows beyond the ability of its members to feed themselves. Before a natural disaster occurs, the huge anthill is destroyed by humans. The writer draws a clear parallel between ants and humans. The ant colony is compared to the earth where population expansion is out of control, where the only way to survive is to attempt to expand continuously and the only way out must be destruction.

On his path towards the final crisis, when the land development company finally has the opportunity to purchase the Nokobee tract of land and to develop it, Raphael learns to walk a tightrope, to behave ethically in representing the interests of the company and, at the same time, to save the land that means so much to him. It is this ability, of one individual who remains true to his values, that shines through in Anthill!

At Camp Nominingue, we work hard to create situations that challenge boys to develop their skills, to test out their ideas, to demonstrate their leadership and to forge their independence. In camp, this might occur at instruction, as campers develop their skills working through four skill levels at a variety of instructional activities. It might happen during a large group activity during the tribal games or voyageur games, as campers learn to cooperate with their team-mates to lead their team to victory. Opportunities to run a triathlon, to perform on stage, to climb the wall, to carve a paddle, to hike a mountain or to participate in a canoe or sailing race are available almost every day. A canoe trip, whether an overnight for 8 year olds or a ten day for 15 year olds, is another opportunity for campers to shine – as one camper lights a fire in the rain, another carries a heavy pack over a distance of a kilometre and another camper learns to read a map as the canoes drift out in the middle of a lake.

This skill building, the challenges, the opportunities for decision-making and to take on a leadership role help develop a boy’s character. With the guidance of a skilled staff and outstanding role-models, boys at Camp Nominingue have the opportunity to develop their values and to test their identity. The ultimate end is personal growth, a gain in self-confidence, in independence and in his sense of responsibility. Camp is also a pretty fun way to spend the summer!

The Reader

It is easy to see why The Reader by Bernhard Schlink became a bestseller. I haven’t seen the movie with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, but I would like to. If you have seen the movie, do read the book!

The Reader can be divided into three sections. In the first part, Michael Berg, the narrator, is a fifteen year-old growing up in post-war Germany. Off school and recovering from hepatitis, while walking near his home one day, he meets a woman, Hanna, who helps him out. Returning to her home, they embark on a relationship which lasts for many weeks, only to end suddenly when the woman disappears.  Part two takes place a few years later when, as a law student, Michael’s class attends a trial of a group of women who were guards in a concentration camp during the war. Hanna is one of the women on trial. The third part of the novel takes place over a period of ten years, the last ten years of Hanna’s imprisonment.

What struck me in the first part of the novel was Bernhard Schlink’s description of adolescence.

Does everyone feel this way? When I was young, I was perpetually overconfident or insecure. Either I felt completely useless, unattractive, and worthless, or that I was pretty much a success, and everything I did was bound to succeed. When I was confident, I could overcome the hardest challenges. But all it took was the smallest setback for me to be sure that I was utterly worthless. Regaining my self-confidence had nothing to do with success; every goal I set myself, every recognition I craved made anything I actually did seem paltry by comparison, and whether I experienced it as a failure or triumph was utterly dependent on my mood.

This characterization rings true to me, not necessarily for every adolescent, but definitely for many. The mood swings of teenagers are frequent. I see it in the campers at Nominingue and I see it in my daughter. I also remember how I was affected when I was the same age.

Nominingue is a community where boys from 7 to 15 spend between a week and three weeks living in tents, learning new skills and setting off on canoe trips. Each session, there are between twenty-five and fifty 14 and 15 year olds at camp. The good counsellor recognizes that mood swings are a normal part of growing up for many kids. These counsellors ensure that they are present to listen, to encourage, to offer advice when asked, and to forge a supportive relationship with each and every camper. Having these role models present is one way that camps like Nominingue help boys through the trials and tribulations of adolescence.