Many of my fun memories of summer camp experiences over the past 35 years are integrally tied to the long-standing traditions of those camps: favourite campfire songs, dining hall skits and cheers, stories and jokes passed on through the ages, final night activities and even daily routines and chores. Experiencing camp traditions helped me to build character and a love for camp life. For those camps that I returned to year after year, traditions filled me with excited anticipation to see them unfold again, each time through a slightly different lens as new staff or groups of campers added their own unique style to presenting them.
Kamp Kiwanis first opened in 1951 and many of the traditions established in those first few years continue, 66 years later. As you wander through the buildings, you can’t help but notice the wooden K-poles that line many of the walls. The first K-pole was created in 1951 and hangs to this day in Parkinson. Each K-pole commemorates a session of Kamp Kiwanis by listing the names of all the kampers and staff in attendance. They all have the 2 K’s for Kamp Kiwanis at the top and often are designed around the theme of the session with a quote to remember that session by. Traditionally, K-poles were engraved by wood-burning, but through creative freedom have expanded to include painting and other media to suit the theme.
As Kampers arrive at Kamp Kiwanis, staff ring the Kamp Bell for each vehicle’s arrival and each vehicle is greeted by friendly staff to welcome them to Kamp Kiwanis. Prior to the early 2000s the Kamp Bell was a buzzer on the side of Watson, one of the buildings. The bell is much nicer on the ears! Every morning of Kamp begins with the raising of the Canada flag, singing of the national anthem and a thought of the day (unless a kabin group is on an out-trip). Occasionally the Canadian Flag and anthem has been substituted for by another country, usually home to one of our international staff members.
Every evening also ends at the flagpole with the lowering of the flag while “Taps” is sung. After the flag lowering ceremonies, kabins are presented with teddy bears to recognize their efforts. Of course, over the years the teddies have been replaced as needed due to wear and tear, but some of the names have stuck. “Handy Andy,” the first nightly teddy bear on record is still given to recognize the kabin group that is the most helpful. A newer tradition since the mid 2000s is the nightly “Sleepy Time Thought” where one of the staff will read a short story, anecdote or quote before sending the kampers off to their kabins.
Daily routines have evolved over the years at Kamp Kiwanis as new activities have been introduced, but some of the long-standing ones have been:
- Dining hall chants and cheers
- Daily kabin group chores, formerly known as Knowannos and now known as (K)iwannas (the K is silent), teaching responsibility and pride in areas of Kamp that kampers use
- Kabin Inspection, where each kabin is visited by some unusual characters in dress-up clothes
- UP time (or unscheduled play time), a chance for kampers to choose an afternoon activity from a few options
- Nightly kamp-wide activities such as wide games, theme games or pool parties
- Kampfires with kabin cheers, The Kamp Cheer, songs and skits
- Once during the kamp session, each kabin group gets to experience an overnight kamping experience or out trip in the forest on our site along the Elbow River
Each session of Kamp Kiwanis has an opening kampfire the first evening preceded by the torch light parade where each kamper can carry their own kerosene torch to the Kiwano Ring (K-Ring) Kampfire circle. At the Closing Kampfire on the last evening of Kamp, Kampers are reminded of the 6 symbols of Kamp that represent our important values (wildlife, environment, being active, friendship, community and safety) as resource staff carry the symbols and torches to light the path to the K-Ring. Kampfires traditionally open with the song “Fire’s Burning” and end with the Kamp Kiwanis Song and “Kum-Ba-Yah.”
Each kampfire includes a “Peanut,” a witty skit put on by the staff that follows a basic formula, but can be planned or more often improvised. The Peanut starts after or more commonly interrupts the song “Found a Peanut” and is a fun way to make announcements about the weather, events happening at Kamp, to give recognition and to drop hints to possible upcoming events…juicy, juicy, juicy! Welcoming guests that visit is part of the opening and closing kampfires. Closing Kampfire also includes the unveiling of the session’s K-Pole and a goodbye song from staff to kampers.
Perhaps one of the most memorable traditions at Kamp Kiwanis is the PBK (Polar Bear Klub) in which kabins are woken up before the regular wakeup call with shouts from the resource staff and sometimes banging on pots and pans, bells or horns. The first kabin group to get all their members including kounsellors into the swimming pool wins the PBK. In the early years, kabin groups had to run and jump in the creek that flowed behind the kabins.
There are even traditions unique to certain Kamp Sessions. Senior Kamps (for those kampers finished grade 6), have Tux Dinner the last evening of Kamp. Kampers and staff dress-up and have a more formal meal to celebrate the week. Sometimes the meal is integrated with the theme and costumes range from red-carpet worthy to just fun and silly. Some sessions get to experience a kampfire side dinner at North Bend, one of our camping sites on the Elbow River or Kiwannaval (Carnival type day) or movie night. Staff even have their own traditions, such as the annual Jacks Tournament where staff compete to win a coveted trophy.
Every kamper goes home with their own souvenirs of Kamp, as they make a wood-cookie name tag the first day of Kamp, receive a KK T-shirt and go home with tons of memories and lots of new friends.As you can see in the reading of this blog, at Kamp Kiwanis we also swap out a lot of C’s for K’s too, another tradition of ours.
Being that Kamp Kiwanis is a camp that has now served a few generations of kampers, it is not uncommon to hear that the kids of past kampers or even grandkids and great grandkids of past kampers are attending Kamp Kiwanis. In speaking to these past kampers it is amazing to hear that some of the traditions they remember are still part of Kamp Kiwanis today. One time a delivery truck driver stopped and asked if we still had all the K-Poles and if he could look and find his name on it. At an open house, a relative of a kamper remembered coming to Kamp Kiwanis herself as a child. She told us that for years after Kamp she would use stones, sticks or blocks, whatever she could find, to help her recreate the layout of the kabins and buildings at Kamp Kiwanis on the ground so she would never forget the amazing week she spent here.
Kamp Kiwanis has certainly changed in the last 66 years, but at the heart of Kamp many traditions remain and make Kamp the memorable place it is in the hearts of former kampers and staff
Written by Jenn Radder
Jenn has attended summer camps since the age of 5 and nearly 35 years later is still drawn to camp life. She has been involved with Kamp Kiwanis and all its traditions since 2000 and is currently the Development Coordinator.