It had only been six days since my 9-year-old twin daughters left for their first sleep away (residential) camp. Like most parents, my husband and I were eager to see them on visiting day.
We hurried from the parking lot, peering around trying to find them. Finally, we caught our first glimpse: there was Alex, seated by a spinning wheel, learning from a patient older woman how to card freshly shorn wool. Her hair was braided and tied with ribbons, and she wore a dress similar to what you would see on old TV episodes of Little House on the Prairie. Her sister Sophie was in the farmhouse next door, dressed much the same way, and trying her hand at needlepoint.
The girls had chosen something a little out the ordinary for their first sleepaway experience. It’s called the Time Travellers’ Camp and is run by the Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario, a recreation of a 1860s era village. The co-ed camp allows kids ages 9 to 13 to live on the historical site and participate in village life. They wear period costumes and spend up to two hours each day “in character” (i.e. as village children) who cook, milk cows, slop pigs and attend school. For the rest of the time, the children are with their counsellors, playing games, sharing meals and doing more traditional camp activities. Participants stay in two 19th century residences known as the Blue House and the Grey House, which have been outfitted with period furnishings, but also contain modern washroom and shower facilities.
During their week, Sophie and Alex not only learned about the art of needlepoint and carding wool, but also how to bake in a period kitchen, take care of various animals and even attend school (but with no worries about grades). In the schoolhouse, the teacher would lead them through the daily singing of God Save the Queen (to Queen Victoria, naturally) and teach them pronouns (thee, thou, ye, etc.), before an audience of bemused visitors to the village. They wrote in their notebooks with quills and bottles of ink, and got some humour-tinged insight into the daily life and activities of Canadian children of this era.
We had first explored the idea of the Time Travellers’ Camp because we had friends whose children had loved it. Since this was our girls’ first experience at a sleepover camp, we liked the fact that it was only a week long. But most of all, the camp seemed to speak to something in the girls themselves. Voracious readers with very active imaginations, they were enthralled by the opportunity to spend a week re-living this historical time period.
They eagerly embarked on the application process, writing out a required short essay (a couple of paragraphs) about why they wanted to attend, and contacted their teachers to each get a letter of reference. The camp then reviews each application and makes a decision in late April.
We waited with excitement to find out if they’d been accepted, as we knew it was a popular program. When they got their acceptance, they raced out to tell their friends. We laughed when we read the packing list, and realized each girl needed to bring along three 12-inch long satin hair ribbons. Cost for the weeklong program is $525, with some bursaries available.
Their week away gave my girls a healthy dose of independence, as well as some experience preparing their own simple lunches, cleaning up their bunks and bonding as a group with their fellow campers. They giggled over the tourists who came to watch them. Alex loves to tell a story about a little girl who watched the Time Travellers eat their picnic lunch in the schoolyard, dip their tin cups into a bucket of lemonade and play traditional games. She then exclaimed to her parents, “Look, the kids are really eating!”
When it was time to leave their new friends and village life behind, we were all impressed by what they’d learned and absorbed in only six days. We left the spinning wheel behind, but we weren’t too surprised by their joint request for their very own sewing machine!
For information the Time Travellers’ Camp, visit www.uppercanadavillage.com and click on “Youth Programs.” The application can be downloaded from the site.