The magic of camp discovered at Camp Kindle
For one week they’re just kids swinging from the ropes and singing by the campfire on 160 green acres of land surrounded by forest and overlooking Silver Creek in Water Valley.
“They’ve all had this horrific thing happen to them in their life. They all have that in common,” said Kelsey Morrison, program coordinator at Camp Kindle, a kids’ cancer camp operated through the Kids Cancer Care Foundation.
“This is a place for them to escape, a place they can come and just have fun,” she said.
It’s Thursday morning and it’s activity time for the campers. A group is busy with beads inside the craft cabin and a bunch of younger kids are giving each other makeovers inside a lodge. Down below on the fields, the older kids are laughing and yelling as a soccer match starts.
The season started this year on July 9. It’s a big year for the camp and the Kids Cancer Care Foundation. Camp Kindle was purchased in 2009 but has undergone extensive renovations to the tune of $8 million, which has mostly been completed.
“We ran the program for the first couple of years in pretty run down dilapidated buildings that were kept together with a lot of love and band aids,” said Christine McIver, founder of Kids Cancer Care.
McIver started the kids’ cancer camp in Alberta in 1991 by renting space at a camp near Bragg Creek.
She was motivated to provide a place for children with cancer and their families to escape after her son was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1986.
“There was no program at all for children with cancer in the province and very few in the country and not a lot of research was happening,” she explained. In 1990, when he was going through the bone marrow transplant, she really wanted to send him to camp and she knew there was one in B.C. She went for a week as well, but not with him.
“I wanted to make sure he experienced it on his own. I picked everybody’s brain and came back with the attitude that I’m starting this camp for kids with cancer in this province. Ignorance is bliss because I had no idea how big this project would be, but it turned out to be a really good thing to do.”
Her son Derek passed away just a few months before they had their first program in Alberta in 1991, which continued in Kananaskis for 19 years.
The foundation eventually outgrew the space and purchased Camp Kindle in 2009 for $2.2 million.
In 2011, the foundation embarked on an $8-million fundraising campaign to pay for the camp purchase and to carry out the renovations and upgrades to make it suitable for children with cancer.
So far, they’ve raised 82 per cent of the funds.
The renovations included building a new dining hall and medical facility to house oncology doctors and nurses. Other renovations include new dorms with wheelchair access, new roadways, a volunteer lodge, a high-ropes course, climbing wall, swimming pool and water system.
The camp brings in kids of all ages for a week at a time during the summer. Siblings are always invited to attend as well.
“It’s helpful to see people who have gone through the same thing,” said Rose Murawsky, 14, who took a time-out from a soccer game to talk about camp. She attends the camp with her four siblings every year in support of her little sister Grace, 7, who had a tumour on her kidney.
“It’s easy to integrate here. At home it can be hard to explain the situation to people but here everyone knows what it’s like,” she said.
The family also includes Eli, 8, Noah, 11, and Mackenzie, 18.
The family agrees it’s important to come together to get the chance to spend time as a family having fun.
“It has been one of my bests summers,” said Mackenzie of transitioning from a camper to councillor. She said she was too old to continue as a camper this year but didn’t want to say goodbye to Kindle.
“It’s important to our family to continue,” she explained.
Besides getting to spend time together, each member of the Murawsky family has their own favourite activity. Eli likes the dance held at the end of the week for all of the campers and Rose likes meeting new people. Noah likes the giant swing which, at its highest point, is 80 feet from the ground and gives the campers a view of Silver Creek.
Grace, with blue eye shadow streaked across her lids and wearing bright red lipstick from the morning makeover, has been quiet during the discussion but her eyes light up when she shares her favourite activity – the flying squirrel.
The flying squirrel is part of the ropes initiative course, the newest rope course in Canada, part of the camp’s makeover.
“It gives them a chance to push themselves,” said Joel Fischer, head ropes coordinator. “Some of them are treated with velvet gloves at home because their family is really worried about them,” he said.
“Here they get to do things they didn’t think they could.” He said the best part of his job is watching kids come down from their climb and running to their friends with a big hug.
“It gives them a chance to grow and realize what they’re capable of.”
The course includes a lift to bring children in wheelchairs or with mobility issues up to the top. Just last week Fischer said he worked with a blind student to go through the course.
Other outdoor activities include archery, hiking paths and a low-ropes course.
The camp can sleep and feed 180 children a week. This was the first year a full week camp was offered for kids with their parents. McIver said it was mostly newcomers who wanted a chance to experience the camp life.
All of the money raised for the camp has been through fundraising and renting out the camp during the year. For more information visit www.kidscancercare.ab.ca