MAGICAL MOMENTS AT Camp Smitty
WhenTom Patrick arrived at camp at the age of 12, he knew immediately that he belonged. “Camp was the most fantastic experience of my life,” Tom says of the former Camp Minwassin run by the Boys & Girls Club and renamed Camp Smitty in 2001 after Brian Smith, the late NHL player, legendary Ottawa sports broadcaster and former Minwassin camper. “I was a shy, quiet kid, but camp brought out all sorts of confidence that I never knew I had.”
Fast forward 30 years and Tom Patrick is still at camp, but now he’s in charge. When the opportunity to lead the camp came up in 2002, he jumped at the opportunity. “It wasn’t my plan to become Camp Director, but this is my dream job,” he admits.
Tom grew up in a big Centretown family and times weren’t always easy. “I was adopted and there were never less than six kids in the house, and sometimes eight or nine,” he says. But while summer camp was a welcome release, it wasn’t just the canoe rides and cabin living that hooked him.
“I had great counselors who offered encouragement, not pressure,” he notes. “I was not used to seeing 17 and 18 year-old kids who were focused on being good role models.”
His childhood experiences at camp give him an edge as Camp Director because he knows firsthand the difference he is making in kids’ lives. “I think about how my life would have been different if I hadn’t gone to camp – usually when I see people I grew up with who took the wrong path,” he says. “The camp gave me sports, the outdoors, and identified my leadership qualities – it was a whole life path that they gave me.”
The camp is special for another reason too. Thanks to the support of the Ottawa community and the annual Brian Smith golf tournament (www.briansmithgolf.com), the camp welcomes almost 1500 fully subsidized kids every summer. “So if you can pay, great; and if you can’t afford it, then just pay what you can,” says Tom. “We won’t make money the reason your kid can’t come to camp.”
While Tom admits that there are lots of stressful times and long days, he also notes that, “It only takes one magical moment at camp to lift me three feet off the ground.” And for the kids in his care, magical moments are what Camp Smitty is all about.
Catherine Clark is the host of Beyond Politics on CPAC.