School spotlight: Camp Nominingue: The quintessential boys’ camp experience

When you think of a traditional summer camp, you envision camping, being on the water, learning outdoor skills, and making great friends. Well, Camp Nominingue offers all that and so much more.

We chatted with Grant McKenna, who is not only the director there but has spent more than three decades at the Camp as both a camper and an employee.

Tell us about Camp Nominingue and what campers get to experience.

We’re an English boys’ camp in Quebec so, immediately, those two things set us apart. One of our draws is English immersion. so Nominingue is ideal for Quebec families looking for an English experience; and we’re the only boys camp in Quebec, which is great for parents who are looking for that experience for their sons.

Each morning, campers participate in our instruction program. Each boy chooses two activities they do for six days – it could be mountain biking and climbing, archery and crafts, or sailing and kayaking. The goal is for campers to develop new skills or improve skills they already had. Skill development is one way that boys gain confidence.

Twice a day it’s free swim. This is a time for campers to choose how they spend their free time. It’s not organized play – they can go to the equipment room and get a basketball, play tennis, swim, boat, go to the craft shop and work on a woodworking project, and more. The staff is present to support them or to help them find a buddy.  Everyone is doing something.

Afternoons are typically age-specific programming while and in the evenings, programs frequently involve the whole camp. Most evenings end with a campfire.

You do some fantastic canoe trips during the summer…

The founder of the camp believed all kids should learn to travel in the Canadian wilderness. Nominingue was chosen as the site of the camp because canoe trips could leave from Petit Lac Nominingue and travel in all directions, following the lakes and rivers of the northern Laurentians. We believe in the value of the canoe trip experience. It’s a challenge that should be age- and skill-appropriate. The campers go out in small groups into the wilderness and grow from that experience.

The youngest campers, 7-9 years old, go on an overnight trip and paddle down to the end of the lake, set up camp, cook their supper on an open fire, tell stories, play games, and come back the next morning. The 10-11 year olds can choose to go on a three-day trip. 12-13 year olds can choose to go on five-day trips. Our oldest boys, 14-15 year olds can choose to head off on seven to ten day trips, travelling 200 kilometres north of the camp to Parc de la Verendrye. We see it as an introduction to both traditional and modern tripping methods – we still cook food on an open fire, but we send out stoves with the trips in case there’s a fire ban or a rainstorm and they’re unable to light a fire.

So, what’s the food like at Camp Nominingue?

In the morning breakfast starts with cereal or oatmeal and then there’s fruit with a main course, which rotates between bacon and eggs, French toast and pancakes. At lunch we often have soup and a salad bar plus a main course of hamburgers, Mexican food, pizza – those kinds of options. We have a salad bar again at dinner with the main course, and that’s typically meat with potatoes, rice or pasta, and vegetables. Of course, there’s dessert, and we have fruit snacks three times a day.

We want to go to camp too!

You can! We have a family camp that we started in 1984. It’s five days and we’re filled by June. We get alumni who come back and to re-experience the camp; we get parents who want to introduce their sons or daughters to a summer camp experience, or introduce their son specifically to Nominingue because they want him to come back as a camper. Family camp is a rustic vacation as each family sleeps in a tent. There’s supervision, three meals a day and organized, but optional activities. We usually fill 35 big tents and another 15 small tents. It’s a lot of fun for everyone.

Since you know the place better than anybody, having attended as well as worked there, what’s the best thing about Camp Nominingue?

The greatest experience, I think, is the bonding that occurs between the kids, between the kids and the staff, and amongst the staff. We create a place that become a kid’s second home, and they really see it as their place.