Forging Camp: The History and Making of Moorelands Camp

In 1912, Toronto was in the midst of transformation and economic growth, with a thriving manufacturing sector that attracted a wave of new immigrants downtown. But these immigrants didn’t benefit from the economic boom in the same way that the upper and middle class did—they faced sweatshop labour, overcrowded and inadequate housing, as well as rampant diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever.

It was against this backdrop of poverty, disease and hopelessness that the Downtown Church Workers’ Association (DCA) was formed in the fall of 1912 under the leadership of Canon R.J. Moore, Rector of St. George’s Parish. The early DCA united with other Anglican churches to combat pressing social issues in Toronto, offering programs that provided support, relief and education to families in need.

In 1917, the DCA purchased five acres of land on Lake Simcoe near Beaverton, and Moorelands Camp was born! The camp, named after Reverend and Mrs. Moore, initially accommodated 500 children and their mothers for 12-day summer retreats, complete with its very own train stop! The camp’s vision was to provide kids with fresh air out of the city, and the opportunity to connect with nature.

Enduring Through Hardship

During the 1930s, the DCA responded to the needs of those affected by the Great Depression, focusing on the provision of food, clothing and shelter. There was a greater focus on meeting the immediate needs of the community, and less on expanding and developing a young Moorelands Camp. Still, programs continued for mothers and their children. 

Some of the first campers at Moorelands Camp in Beaverton, 1919.

Mothers and their children wait for the train at Moorelands Camp’s very own train stop in Beaverton, 1936.

However, the years that followed marked a shift towards broader community involvement, bringing financial challenges to Moorelands Camp. The property was slowly neglected and required extensive renovations, but there were little funds available to dedicate to the cause. By 1952, architects recommended demolishing and replacing the bungalow due to safety issues. The entire camp was in danger of the same fate.

Fundraising became a lifeline for the DCA during this time period. The organization initiated successful fundraising events such as “Theatre Night” and secured radio time on CFKH, and sought support from established uptown churches. By the 1960s, the DCA was able to commit more resources to updating the campgrounds and funding three major programs: Moorelands Camp, Christmas Help and Eagle Camp for boys. Two years later, in 1962, authorities considered Moorelands Camp to be “one of Canada’s models in the field of charitable enterprises.”

An Evolving Identity

During the years that followed, the DCA was an active member of an inter-church committee that worked collaboratively with other denominations and organizations, expanding its reach beyond strictly Anglican initiatives. 

In 1971, pollution and overcrowding at the Beaverton camp site created an urgency to relocate—a move that brought Moorelands Camp to Kawagama Lake in Dorset, Ontario, which to this day it has called home.

Four girls hanging out together outside their cabin at Moorelands Camp on Kawagama Lake, 1975.

Volunteers from “Aquarians” building bunk beds for even more campers, 1997. This group helped Moorelands Camp financially and physically for 20 years.

With the move came a simultaneous change in the philosophy of camp. Recreational “fresh air” camping no longer met the needs of campers and their families. In addition to fun, outdoor activities, it was believed that camp should provide opportunities for personal development and leadership skills. By the 1980s, the DCA had reimagined their identity and the future of the organization, focusing on key areas such as literacy initiatives, research projects addressing youth vulnerabilities, and community development work in various neighbourhoods. 

Welcome, “Moorelands

With its philosophy, mission and program offerings steadily evolving at the turn of the century, another milestone was marked in 2001 when the DCA changed its name to “Moorelands Community Services.” The new name better reflected the independent, multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic nature of the organization, while honouring its founder and rich history. 

From 2003 to 2011, Moorelands Camp underwent a complete rebuild, featuring new cabins, a water filtration system and improved facilities to ensure a safe and enriching experience for campers. In 2012, Moorelands Community Services celebrated 100 years and a century of empowering Toronto’s disadvantaged children! 

Today, after changing its name to “Moorelands Kids” in 2018—a name that more accurately reflects those we serve—Moorelands continues to make a significant impact in the lives of Toronto youth.

The official opening of the new Deb’s Hall (dining hall) on Kawagama Lake in 2000.

This year, we have embarked on a new strategic plan that focuses on the growth, modernization and sustainability of our organization. Moorelands Kids intends to serve more kids, serve kids more in the coming years.

To learn more about Moorelands Camp and current camp programming, click here

To read more about our 2023-2027 Strategic Plan, click here.

To view our 2022 Annual Report, click here.

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