CAMP ONAWAW - A BRIEF HISTORY

The Original Lodge Onawaw is an Indian word (some accounts say Cree, some say Ojibway,) meaning "Spirit of the Dawn". It was the name given he the girls' camp on the shores of Lake Vernon near Huntsville, Ontario which was founded in 1925 by Mrs. Edward Turkington in 1925. In 1932/33, the camp was purchased by Margaret Govan, the guiding light who operated a haven of summer fun and happiness for young girls until 1970 when the site was sold to the Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA for Camp Wabanaki.

Known to campers as "Robin" (the camp had a Robin Hood theme), Margaret Govan was a wonderful story teller. She created a place of magic as she told the Tajer Tales and the legends of Sherwood Forest by the light of a campfire at Robin Hood Night. An author of children's books, she wrote adventures where the settings were very similar to the Onawaw setting on Lake Vernon. (Trail of the Red Canoe, Trail of the Broken Snowshoe and Island Hideaway.) She gave the camp a spiritual atmosphere where city girls learned to love and respect the outdoors, and learned the skills which enabled them to enjoy it to the fullest.

Onawaw Island and Bridge The camp offered swimming, canoeing (with canoe trips to connected lakes and to Algonquin Park for senior campers), life saving, horseback riding, sailing, archery and crafts. Music and singing were a part of every meal, of every campfire and provided paddle rhythms for every canoe trip.

In the early years the camp housed about 40 girls, but soon grew to accommodate about 100. It consisted of a main lodge with a wide rustic veranda sited on a high point of land by the lake, and several sleeping cabins. In the late 1950s the original lodge began to show the ravages of good use and weather, and repairs were found to be too expensive. It was torn down and a new structure was built to provide a dining hall with a kitchen and crafts room on the lower level. The fireplace in the original lodge remains on its promontory overlooking Lake Vernon. A recreation hall called "The Ark" because of its unusual slant-walled design was added and became the home of many Gilbert and Sullivan productions. These buildings continue in use by Camp Wabanaki as do many of the original sleeping cabins.

Onawaw Waterfront Margaret Govan was a leader in setting standards for children's camps in Ontario. Camper safety and health were uppermost priorities, and she developed a very good counsellor training program. She was a strong supporter of the Ontario Camping Association and eventually became its president.

As one former camper said, "Robin was very special to us. She truly believed in each of us as individuals and we have never forgotten that." Margaret Govan died in 1987. She touched the lives of many girls who, as women, appreciate how very special she was and how lucky they were to have experienced Camp Onawaw.