by Karen Cornies and Lorena Diller Harder; photos by Jennie Wiebe
We acknowledge with respect, the history, spirituality, and culture of the Anishiaabek, Six Nations of the Grand River, Haudenosaunee, and Wendat-Wyandot-Wyandotte peoples on whose traditional territories we gather and whose ancestors signed treaties with our ancestors. We also recognize the Metis and Inuit whose ancestors shared this land and these waters. May we all, as Treaty People, live with respect on this land, and live in peace and friendship with all its diverse peoples.
—Grey County land acknowledgment
In 1964, Kate Neudorf first arrived at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp near Sauble Beach, Ont., as a camper. Years later, in 1992, she still remembered the experience:
“Ahhh, but then comes the part about stepping out of the car, stretching and smelling the air—fresh, unadultered air—air with a gourmet quality filling my lungs… For several moments, I wish never to exhale again, and for the next few days, I will notice it just like that: sweet and rich with freshness every morning.”
Years later, in 2019, Julia Hildebrand, who worked at Silver Lake Camp for five seasons, wrote a goodbye letter to the camp.
Dear Camp,” it began, “I have so many memories of driving up to visit you each summer, and every time I took that first step out of the car, I’d breathe in the smell of cedar and pine. You’re just such a breath of fresh air…and I find that comforting.”
This year, Silver Lake Mennonite Camp turned 60, and for many during those years, camp has been a breath of fresh air.
Cedars, ferns and orchids
Silver Lake is located on the edge of the Bruce Peninsula close to Lake Huron, where there are a variety of fascinating habitats. The soil is sandy and the water table is high. In ancient times, Lake Huron’s shoreline was at Silver Lake. The forest includes deciduous and coniferous trees, with aspen, white birch, white pine, and cedar trees prominent throughout. Diverse undergrowth covers the forest floor, including multiple species of ferns. Trilliums, lady slippers, orchids and lilies can be found throughout Silver Lake, as can a lot of poison ivy! Turtles, bass, pike, perch, sunfish, catfish and leeches all make their home in the lake. A swampy bog leads to Hidden Lake and is filled with cedar trees and frogs.
This environment is great for exploration, and visitors can learn about it through tree identification signs around the camp. Campers learn about the land through hands-on activities such as gathering mint, sweet gale and cedar to make a tea.
Seeing campers enjoy the screen-free environment at Silver Lake is a hopeful, healthy sign. All campers, even older ones, leave their electronics behind. We often hear that it was a relief to be without them and that they’re excited to let it go again the next year. This is a good reminder of how open children can be to tech-free spaces, and it gives us hope that these moments will lead to healthy relationships with technology. The staff set the tone for this by being screen-free themselves. With this deep awareness and love of nature, they will continue a lifelong journey of caring for creation.
Hearing story after story of the impact camp has on the lives of the people it touches is powerful. They tell us about the connections camp builds spiritually, personally, interpersonally and with the natural world. At Silver Lake, as with many creation-focused camps, there is a camp magic that can spur us on towards joy, love and good deeds.
“O Silver Lake,” the camp theme song captures this love of creation and the gift of being part of it.
O, Silver Lake how graceful
Your tall birch trees bending
The wind through their branches is music to me
The gleam of the sunlight that flashes on paddles
As swiftly we glide over lake and through stream
The laugh of the loon and the whill of the whippoorwill
Mem’ries that stay with us many a year
Our long journey’s ending
Our homeward way wending
With joyful hearts singing
To you, Silver Lake.
Silver Lake Mennonite Camp is affiliated with the Mennonite Churches of Eastern Canada and the Mennonite Camping Association.