Ontario Camp of the Deaf
“Farm for Sale On Lake”
Rev. Robert Rumball was just three years into his ministry with the Evangelical Church of the Deaf and the Ontario Mission of the Deaf when he saw that sign on the side of highway 69 just south of Parry Sound Ontario. He walked in, wearing his street clothes, unprepared for the waist high snow that had just fallen. Very quickly the deal was closed and for the first time the Church could run a summer camp program at a place that they could call their very own. The Ontario Camp of the Deaf had begun to do what no one else was doing or could do. From the very humble beginnings in 1960 to the present day, the goals of the Camp have not changed. Meeting the Spiritual, Social and Recreational needs of deaf young people is the driving force behind the work of the camp.
The Evangelical church of the Deaf had run summer camp programs for children and their families under the leadership of the late Rev. Ethridge at Redstone Lake in Haliburton. In 1957-59 Rev. Rumball booked Elim Lodge in the Peterborough area to run the summer camp. While the deal in Parry Sound was closing the Church used Sharon Lodge in McKellar in 1960. The Church Board had met to approve the deal in progress. Mr. H. Grooms was opposed to the positive votes cast by Arthur Hazlitt, John Morrison, Alex Crowley, Don MacKillop, Don Smith Keith Johnson and John Major yet it was Mr. Grooms who stayed behind and wrote a cheque for one thousand dollars to give the debt retirement a positive start. Mr. Grooms was asked to cut the ribbon on opening day. Walter Bell organized the selling of chocolate and candy to pay off the original $25,000 and did so in 3 years.
The property found on that snowy February day in 1960 was second to none. A parcel of land nestled between two lakes with a natural rise in the middle. It was a perfect sight. Prior to the purchase, the land was used for farming. Fencing ran along the shorelines and fields were used for grazing pastures. There were three homes on the property. The Farmer had his home on top of the hill, a cottage was built on the lakeshore for his daughter and a small chicken shed was converted into a small three-bedroom cottage for his son. The son’s home, we called #1. The farmer’s home was #2 and the lake front cottage was called #3 for many years. Many quests over the years have stayed in the bedrooms of #1 never knowing that is was a converted chicken shed. The kitchen and living room of #1 was added on to the chicken shed to build the son a home. Having that done, he saw the need for a new place for the chickens so a rather large chicken coop was built. That was good for the camp because the Chicken coop was the dining hall for many years as well as providing a place for the girls to sleep upstairs. As for the boys, they got to sleep in the barn.
That was the beginning. It was rough but the children that came to camp were being touched and reached in a way that no one else had been doing. This is not a camp where a “ special week” was put aside for the “handicapped kids”. This was a place that was owned and operated by the Deaf. This was a place where a deaf child could come and have a terrific summer camp experience but without any of the typical communication barriers normally associated with their deafness. The uniqueness of the camp along with the notoriety of having a professional football player associated with it raised the awareness of the camp in the community and with many service clubs. Rev. Rumball was on the road to inform as many people as possible about this incredible work and the potential it held. In 1967 the doors of the “Rotary Hall” were opened. It served as the dining hall. A complete kitchen and comfortable seating for about 80 people were provide by the Rotary Club of West Toronto. This project not only provided the camp with what was needed, it brought in the outside help from the services clubs of the province that have proved to be our best resource. At a multiple district conference of the Lions Clubs of Ontario and Quebec , Rev. Rumball was invited to speak. The Lions were captivated. Rev. Rumball had won them over. Immediately the Lions provided the resources for the Milton Farm Home. Rev. Rumball was invited to speak to the Lions of Parry Sound. One Lion was especially impressed. In the early 1970’s Lion George Green, from the Parry Sound Club became one of the camp’s truest friends.The day after Rumball Spoke, Lions Bert Federico, Henry Butler and Lion George visited the camp and led the Lions Clubs of the Zones, then the Regions, then the entire District A-12 to adopt the camp as their district project. What this meant to the camp was over $300,000 invested by the Lions of A-12. Dormitories, The Boathouse, water system improvements, docks, washrooms, the tennis court and the Lions Recreation Hall were all completed during this district wide project.
The Lions motto is “ WE SERVE”. How true that has turned out to be for the camp. Over the years the Lions of A-12 have renovated the Boathouse under Governor Brian Overbeek. Each Governor selects an exceptional Lion to take the Camp under their wing. Over the years Lion Bob Howes and Lion Louis Poitris have raised the money needed for much of our program equipment. Most of the “toys” the camp has have been provide through the efforts of the Lions. The Parry Sound Lions Club has been a true and faithful supporter. The Lions of Parry Sound provided the camp’s ATV, rowboats and canoes. A high light of our summer is our Tuesday afternoon visits from the Lions of Parry Sound . They bring their crew, all the food and provide the campers with a picnic like no other. The Parry Sound Club has always been willing to lend their knowledge, connections, expertise and their hands to the work at the camp.
Most of all, many Lions, as clubs and as individuals send countless numbers of children to camp each summer. So many of the children who have attended camp over the years have done so because there has been a Lion there to pay their way.
In the late 60’s the Lions had already provided the Ontario Mission of the Deaf with the Milton farm home. Years later a similar provision was made for a farm in the Belleville area. In 1994 the Lions Homes for Deaf People were able to make a contribution of $175,000 to construct a modern Infirmary and nurses quarters. Over the years one of the original houses was used as our infirmary. It had become unfit and was due to be demolished and replaced. The new infirmary was completed and has become invaluable. In 1997 the Lions Homes for Deaf People provided the camp with an additional $25,000 to complete renovations to the Progress Inn. In 1973 Progress Clubs had erected the Inn , which served as our general-purpose room for many years. It was due for a total renovation and the Lions again, provided what we needed.
“Go forth and build and you shall over come indifference and distrust.”
The National Fraternal Society of the Deaf (N.F.S.D.) combined their efforts with the Toronto Division 98 and built a fully serviced cottage. It was a project by the Deaf, for the Deaf. The N.F.S.D. built the “FRAT Cottage” as their Golden Anniversary project in 1974. It was the third such project by a deaf organization. The Ontario Mission of the Deaf had already built two staff cottages. An Ontario Mission Board Member and Camp Director was also the President of Toronto Division 98 N.F.S.D. John Potts served the N.F.S.D., the Ontario Mission of the Deaf, and the camp during the time of the 23 rd Quadrennial Convention. Direction from John Potts, Doris MacKillop who went on to be the first woman chair of a National Convention for the N.F.S.D. and the late Roger McAuley lead the N.F.S.D. to the decision to make such a major contribution to the camp.
The camps summer program continued to grow. The number of children served grew from about 60 in the mid 70’s to well over 180 each week by 1989. We ate in shifts and prayed that it never rained during the day. It was also very clear that we could potentially be opened year round. A great decision had to be made. Do we continue to run just in the warm weather months of the year or do we take a huge step of faith and strive to open year round. Several meetings of the camp trustees, several church meetings and a lot of planning took place. A final decision was made. We were going to be open year round. The trustees developed a long-term plan with steps towards year round operation that would be done over a planned ten year period. The first step would be to replace the three boys dorms with a complete facility that would house 80 children, have complete washroom and shower facilities and be heated for use in the winter.
Rev.Rumball had been a long time member of the Hustler’s Young Men’s Bible Class. The Hustlers had been supporting the camp for a long time. They supported children every year and maintained our phone system. When they heard of our plans to expand they were first to make a major financial contribution. This was the seed money that got our whole plan started .In 1989 we started to tear down our boys dorm to get ready to build the following spring. We constructed a 4000-sqare foot dormitory made out of Northern Ontario 10 inch logs. The building was constructed by the camp board, volunteer’s staff and many friends who were willing to give up there weekends for this project. It turned out to be a lovely building that got us on our way.
A great vision for the camp had been developed. Many people took notice of the improvements at the camp. A pair of gentlemen took a keen interest in the work and have not taken a look back since. Enter, Don Durno and Norm Bosworth. Don and Norm were a terrific team that had raised millions of dollars over their lifetime for other worthy causes. They were convinced that they could rally together enough support to turn the camp into a showpiece for the deaf community and the rest of the world. Our long-term plan was shared with them and they made a pledge to help us get there. Don Durno had a distinguished professional sports career that spans from Pro Football in the CFL to hockey in the United Kingdom . Norm Bosworth, an Executive with Canada Dry and a Director of Maple Gardens was connected with a very influential community. In 1991 a brief meeting took place outlining the design needs for a main lodge. A simple, yes came from them and we were underway to realizing a dream. Don and Norm had formed the “Rumball Fund”. They assembled a group of dedicated men who were willing to put their own financial necks on the line to see our dream come true. Plans were drawn up. Approvals were sought. A contractor was hired. The day after camp ended in 1992 we were in the ground. Months of site preparation took place before the first bit of cement was poured. Three acres of land was cleared and over 1000 loads of fill was brought in. We raised the earth on the site 32 feet. It took everyday, for 32 days, one foot at time, to import, then water, then compact the earth so that it would support our new lodge. This was not going to be a regular camp like building. It was going to be 20,000 square foot wonder that contained a complete kitchen and dining hall, a multi-purpose room, a full size Gymnasium, and 6 special needs guests’ rooms.
We utilized the Lions Recreation Hall that was already there. It became our kitchen and dining room. The Rotary Hall had to come down as well as the Jane’s Place, our craft hall. We built through the winter months trying to beat the deadline of next years camp season. We encountered a snowstorm that program equipment that was in storage and the contractors trade tools were all stolen during a weekend holiday break in March of that year. During a spring storm a wall of mud knocked down the foundation of cottage #3. Even with all those obstacles, we were up running and ready by the time the kids were out of school and on their way to camp.
The estimated budget for the lodge was 1.1 Million dollars. We completed it for 1.4 Million. The Rumball Fund assumed all of the responsibility for the project. A major donation from GIFT, The Grocers Foundation , with a lot of push from Mr. Steve Stavro, put us closer to the mark. A single gift from and water systems were improved in order that we may serve over two hundred people at any time of the year. In the fall of 1993 we officially open the “Don Durno Lodge”. Appropriately named for one of the men who did all the behind the scenes work.
The building of the Durno Lodge was an enormous undertaking. There were still projects left to do. From 1992 to the present the Rumball Fund has provided the financial resources for:
4000 square foot work shop
Complete waterfront improvements
Three House keeping Cottages
Wainscoting in Lodge
Guest room renovations
Continued maintenance of property
Since 1992 the Rumball Fund has raised and invested close to 3 million dollars in the camp. They have been instrumental in acquiring funding from the Harold Ballard Foundation and from the Bank of Montreal’s “Our People Fund”. A key event for fundraising as well as awareness has always been the annual ‘BIG D’s” Golf Tournament. It is a fun filled day of golf. It brings to the attention the needs of the camp to a variety of people who are genuinely interested in the welfare of the children.
"It’s people that make the difference."
The Ontario Camp of the Deaf has been able to change lives for 40 years due to the countless number of volunteers who have given their own time and resources to make camp a better place. There have been so many. A few individuals have had the vision and commitment that made a difference. From the beginning Rev. Rumball and wife Mary Jean had provided the leadership that brought many others to the camp. The members of the Deaf Church and the Ontario Mission of the Deaf had a major role in maintaining the property. Two members that stepped up to the challenge were Norm Sero and his deaf friend , Walter Wagester . They led the camp property trustees and insured that that camp was ready for the summer each year. They were the unsung heroes of the camp that made sure that the water was flowing and the toilets flushing. They were part of our long term plan but never saw the camp open year round. They spend many weeks together, each spring and fall at the camp and will spend eternity together.(probably fixing something.) Norm Sero built a wooden cross that we hang at camp. It is a constant reminder of the efforts he put into the camp. A faithful servant , Grant Thorburn , gave the camp his talents and skilled hands when he was called upon Grant’s continued financial support has sent hundreds of children to camp over the years. There have been many men and women who have served as Trustees over the years.
The Property Trustees made sure that the camp property was fit for use. The summer Bible Camp children’s program was whole other responsibility that saw many Deaf participate in. In the beginning Rev. Rumball and Mary-Jean were able to manage with the help they could find. As Rev. Rumball’s duties with the Church increased the need for a committed Summer camp Director became evident. A deaf friend , Don MacKillop was there to take on the burden. Don faithfully served the camp until he was called to glory. Don couldn’t do it alone. So many deaf who had a real passion for the camp were there to support the program.
Jane Johnson used her creative skills in the Craft Hall to make sure that every camper was able to enjoy camp a little more and take something home to remember their summer. Jane served the camp for 18 years before her death in 1980. The craft hall was renamed “Jane’s Place” .
The Children had to eat and the women of the Church were there to make sure that we ate well. Much of the leadership came from John Potts . John has been faithfully serving at the camp since the beginning and continues to do so as the Director and Chairman of the Board.
The Ontario Camp of the Deaf has always been a place of “I Can!” and has never been a place where “I Can’t” is often heard. The camp is full of activities and each year we like to add something new. The waterfront is the place where we spend most of our time. It is here that a camper can learn to swim or greatly improve their swimming skills. Our waterfront is fully accessible with ramp ways leading right to the water’s edge. Canoeing kayaking and the peddle boats are great ways to explore our lakes or just relax. For the more adventurous you can take a spin on one of our Inflatable BIG BERTHA by yourself or team up with five friends and jump on the SEA WASP. Of course we‘ll teach you to water ski, knee board or wake board if that is your desire. If you are not afraid of heights you can take a walk to our picnic point and challenge the TOWER . You have a choice. It’s 25 feet to the water on the lower level or climb up to the 32 foot level. Either way it’s a great trip down! Also at the point is the TARZAN rope. It give the campers a chance to swing out over the water and take an exciting plunge! Once done at the waterfront the campers can head off to the soccer field or baseball diamond or get ready for our own Olympic games on our sand beach volley ball court. Campers love to do crafts and take part in the wood craft program. If it rains, no problem. The Durno Lodge has the Dunlap Gymnasium where we play every thing from traditional basketball to craziest of blind beach ball volleyball. Lino Zecca Partnering with Canadian Off Road training Services ,and Yamaha of Canada we have done what no other camp has done! Every interested camper and staff was taught how to operate and safely ride a Yamaha dirt bike. It is a huge success.
One of the challenges we face every day is finding the financial resources to keep going. Over the years our faithful donors have sent hundreds of children to camp . These children would not have the chance to come to camp if it were not for those people. The faithfulness of the Deaf Church community, our loyal services clubs and those concerned individuals keep smiles on the faces of children that can’t be erased. People give of their resources as well. A dear friend of the camp has ensured that we have not one, but two motor boats each summer .Its a great feeling to know that all of our campers will get the chance to ski or tube with out fear of mechanical problems or breakdowns. Hundreds of kind people have made sure that we good furniture, appliances and sports equipment, just to make sure that we are able to give our campers the best summer of their lives. The Gospel Deaf Fellowship ,from Kitchener and area, ensured that our kitchen was properly equipped and donated over $10,000 worth of dining room and kitchen fixtures and equipment. Every Easter for over 28 years, Rev. Rumball has preached Holy Week services at St. Jacobs Congregational Church. The members of the Church have faithfully donated the offerings to the camp. A Muskoka summer Church, Lake St. Joseph’s Community Church has been more than generous over the years. When we look to meet the needs of the hundreds of disadvantage children that the camp serves, the Telephone Pioneers of America are there . Each year the Fieldway Life Members hold a Christmas Toy drive. Hundreds of toys are collected and we are able to make Christmas morning a true joy for so many children. The Pioneers have put smiles on the faces of hundreds of children each Christmas. The Pioneers were one of the first service Clubs to help us fund raise in order to buy sports equipment. They have purchased kayaks, canoes and waterfront toys for the camp. As well the Pioneers provided us with a 15 passenger van that has served us for over 10 years. The Beaver Bible Class are faithful supporters who have provided resources for several projects. As we grew, the need for more help arose. Each year it seemed that more children needed assistance in getting to camp. The Quota Club took special interest and have paid the way for needy Simcoe County area deaf young people. When ever they could the Quota Club has purchased equipment as well. Most recently the bought a new peddle boat for the children. It has been used for hundreds of hours putting smiles on every face.
The Ontario Camp of the Deaf has been offering the best of what a holiday in the Muskokas has to offer. Now any one can take advantage of all the summer recreational possibilities we have to offer, or enjoy the changing of the leaves in the fall. The winter is a great time to speed down a icy toboggan hill or speed around a huge ice skating rink on the lake. Since 1960 and since we open the door year round the Ontario Camp of the Deaf has been providing one of kind camp experiences to deaf, hard of hearing , and multiple handicapped children adults and their families.
The memories that a child makes at camp are ones that stay with them for a lifetime
Over head of Camp 1970
Fall Colors of OCD 1994
Late 60’s work crew preparing the Boys dorm or the “Barn “for the summer
The Lions of A-12 laying the final sod in 1977
Don Durno and Rose
The camp beach, the Lions Infirmary and the Durno Lodge. The camp kids say “ I love You” Summer ‘99
Mary-Jean And Rev. Robert Rumball
Early OCD Property trustees
Jane Johnson sharing her craft knowledge with the campers