Camp Ta-Wa-Si Turns Sixty!

Far too soon the month of August is drawing to a close. Officially summer is still with us; however, the pace of life is changing. School and university will shortly reopen and another camping season is about to end.

For more than a half century Camp Ta-Wa-Si at Johnston’s Point on the Northumberland Strait has played host to hundreds of young people from the Tantramar region and beyond. As the camp reaches the end of its 60th season, a historical flashback is in order.

Founded in 1940, during the dark days of the Second World War, the camp was the dream of the local United Church minister, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Lockhart (1876–1959). A native of Prince Edward Island Lockhart, in common with many other Maritimers, moved to Western Canada during the early years of the 20th century.

He graduated from Manitoba College, one of the founding institutions of the University of Manitoba. Following theological training, Lockhart went to what was then British Guiana as a Presbyterian missionary. He returned later to the Maritimes, serving with distinction a succession of rural congregations. He concluded his career with a thirteen year ministry in the Shemogue area. This was a deliberate career choice on Lockharts part as he felt called to rural churches. In recognition of this commitment, Pinehill Divinity Hall awarded him an honourary DD in 1948.

It is a tribute to Rev. Dr. Lockhart that he is still fondly remembered over 40 years after his death. As one parishioner expressed it If he called at your house at dinner time, and all that you were having was salt herring and potatoes, he would pull up a chair and join you.

Initially, it was Lockharts plan that Johnsons Point Camp, as it was first known, would primarily serve disadvantaged children within the then Cumberland and Moncton Presbyteries of the United Church. Sixty years later, a handful of congregations still continue to sponsor such children. In establishing the camp Lockhart was ably assisted by Rev. C. Guy MacKenzie (1889–1974) Sackville and Rev. A.F. Baker (1882–1974) Port Elgin, both of whom shared his vision for the camp. Another member of the clergy, Rev. C.C. Walls (1895–1964) was also a strong supporter.

Land for the camp was donated to the local church by Ida Johnson in 1939. In 1967 two additional parcels of land were given by the same benefactor. Although it was, and still is a United Church foundation, the camp has always been open to all, regardless of religious beliefs.

A report at the end of the 1940 camping season indicates that a good start was made. It noted that nature has contributed much to make Johnstons Point an ideal camping site. Five new cabins set among the trees on a high bluff provide adequate shelter. Each is capable of accommodating 12 persons. Meals are served in a large dining hall, with worship services in a secluded grove. Camp fires on the beach each evening feature various forms of entertainment, sing songs and stunts. A camp newspaper is read regularly at the campfire. It records events of the day along with many a good natured story concerning both campers and counselors. Campers from the summer of 2000 will note that the 1940 formula still holds!

While program details may sound familiar, many physical changes have taken place over the past 60 years. The photograph that accompanies this column depicts a group of campers from the early 1950s. Can you identify any of them? I have it on good authority that several are from Sackville! If you can name names, please contact the Trib. See address below.

Over the years, erosion has taken its toll on the property and the original buildings had to be moved back from the shoreline. Later these were replaced and additional cabins added. A major change took place in 1963. By this time the old dining hall (a former lobster hatchery) had outlived its usefulness. Thanks to the generosity of Sackville businessman Carman Dixon (1912–1962), a new facility, the Dixon Memorial Building, was constructed. Not only did it provide new cooking I dining facilities, there was now adequate space for art and craft activities and a refuge for rainy days.

The Johnston family has also been remembered in the naming of the Hollie Johnston Nature Trail. He was a son of Ida and Augustus Johnston. Sometime in the late 1940s the name Camp Ta-Wa-Si was adopted. Perhaps there is a reader who might be able to provide the precise date. It is interesting to note that the current camp director, Karen Trenholm from Riverview, is a descendant of the Johnston family.

The 1940 newspaper read at the campfire, later evolved into a printed publication. First known as Camp Ta-Wa-Si News it eventually became The Pointer. A few copies have survived, permitting me to quote an early camp song. Sung to the tune of the sea shanty Rio Grande two verses will suffice:

I’ll sing you a song of Camp Ta-Wa-Si, Camp Ta-Wa-Si!
Ill sing you a song of the camp by the sea,
For were bound for our old camping ground —
then away boys (or) girls away!


Way down Ta-Wa-Si,
So fare ye well my friends and my pals,
For were bound for our old camping ground.
Theres baseball & swimming & lots of good fun, Camp Ta-Wa-Si!
And sore feet and freckles & plenty of sun,
For were bound for our old camping ground —
then away boys (or) girls away!

While these rollicking verses, plus several more in similar vein, would never win an ECMA award, they have provided good fun for generations of young people gathered around campfires on Johnston’s Point Beach.

From the mid 70s and through the 1980s camping, and especially church camping, was experiencing difficulties. Within society, there was a negative reaction toward formally organized camping activities. Camp Ta-Wa-Si was not immune to these trends. The founders were no longer around and earlier leaders had retired. Experienced personnel to staff the camp became increasingly difficult to find. Some camps similar to Ta-Wa-Si were forced to close.

For Ta-Wa-Si rock bottom was reached in the summer of 1981 when the water became contaminated and all camping had to be cancelled. Fortunately for the future, the opportunity was taken to commission a formal study of all facets of camp life. A committee of three persons, Rev. Dana Cochrane, Dennis Livingstone and Brian Tingley was formed. They were aided in their deliberations by Robert Cameron, a member of the Canadian Camping Association and consultant on outdoor recreation.

The committee recommended sweeping organizational changes in the operation of the board of directors and a mission statement for the camp was drafted. Three formal committees were recommended to cover program, property and financial matters. With the adoption of these measures as a blueprint for the future, Camp Ta-Wa-Si gained a new lease on life. That the camp is still operating successfully after 60 years is due in large measure to the creative work of this committee.

With a sound organizational structure in place, some interesting new initiatives have been launched. One example is a family camp held during the first week of July. Summer 2000 saw the second such program at Ta-Wa-Si. This permits a group of parents and children to enjoy a full week camping together. For the children a regular program from dawn to dusk is offered. Throughout the day, they are supervised by experienced camp personnel, with parents left free to plan their own time. For the remainder of the summer a schedule for all age groups of young people takes over.

Recently Camp Ta-Wa-Si played host to a group of visitors from away. They were members of CANACOM, an acronym for the Caribbean and North American Council for Mission. These young people were being hosted by the Bayfield-Murray Corner-Cape Tormentine United Churches. Little did they realize that they were visiting a camp founded by someone who once served in a land located just south of the Caribbean Sea. Somehow, I think that Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Lockhart would approve of Camp Ta-Wa-Si in the year 2000!

Many people helped write this Flashback. I would like to thank particularly Judith Colwell, Maritime Conference Archivist, Polly Ervin, Helen Walton, Eunice McCormack, Fran Smith and Dennis Livingstone.