“I had a chance for a job at the beginning of the summer,” said one of the girls sitting on the grass at the main camp. She paused as the squeals from the canoe races drifted up from the waterfront. “I told them that if I couldn’t come to camp, I didn’t want the job. That’s what it means to me.”
Had it been worth it, you might be tempted to ask, and the answer, not from one voice but from 620, is a resounding yes!
The voices belong to members of the Young Women from the Alberta-Saskatchewan Region, British Columbia, the Northwest Territory, and even the United States, who participated for one week in “Cam-Jam ’74,” Canada’s first girls’ camp jamboree.
The jamboree was a year in the making and began as a “wild idea” that emerged from a brainstorming session between a group of Summiteers from one of the Calgary stakes and Sue Andruski, regional camp specialist.
“The girls wanted to know why we couldn’t have a jamboree,” Sue recalls, “and I found myself saying, ‘Yeah, why not?’”
After permission was obtained from priesthood leaders plans went ahead, and enthusiasm for the project grew among leaders and girls.
“Sister Andruski’s sole concern in planning the jamboree was for us girls,” said one of the Summiteers from the Calgary Alberta North Stake. “Whenever there was a question or a decision to be made by Sister Andruski, she would always consult us.
“I remember someone asking her to set a deadline for the application forms. She wouldn’t. She accepted applications right up until the moment we left for camp.”
So that girls from all branches and stakes could have a chance to mingle, three sub-camps of more than 200 girls each were created, combining girls from all stakes in a living melting pot that got some surprising results.
Ward camp specialist Sharan Gainor said, “Most of the girls had never met before except as opponents in Church volleyball and basketball games. Now they’re saying to each other, ‘Hey, you’re my friend.’”
Upon arrival at the camp, girls began a week in another world. The Cam-Jam theme was “Sailing the Seven Seas,” and the three sub-camps carried the names of oceans—Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. Each ward in the sub-camp chose a seaport city to provide ideas for decorating the campsites and for the ward skits performed as a part of “Seven Seas Night.”
On “Home Port Night” individual ward camps met to celebrate “Christmas in July.” Some groups sang carols around the campfire and others exchanged homemade or 25¢ gifts. One ward bishop put in an appearance as Santa Claus. Nearby pines were decorated with tinsel and even a few piñatas (“but they looked too nice to break, so we just ate the candy out of them”), and some groups held special firesides themed around the life of Christ. Several of the girls said that their July observation of the Christmas season “meant more than the real thing. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to feel close to God and to understand his plan up here in these beautiful mountains.”
And not only are the mountains beautiful at Camp Woods (a Boy Scout Camp 120 miles from Calgary, Alberta), but Sylvan Lake, which borders the camp on one side, adds its share to the scenery—and to the fun.
Waterfront activities were far and away the most popular. Water skiing (“You’ve got three tries to get up on those skis,” was a familiar shout from the shore), waterfighting, and swimming were open to girls each afternoon, and on one day a water carnival gave them a chance to compete in swimming, canoe racing, canoe jousting, and water polo, among other water games.
Sylvan Lake was also the opening scene of a special early morning testimony meeting, planned and conducted by the Adventurers. The girls canoed across the lake to a quiet place away from the camp, where testimonies were borne and a special breakfast cooked.
“Not one canoe capsized!” an Adventurer boasted. “What do you think of that?”
“I didn’t think we could do it,” said another. “Not just the canoes, but the whole idea of an independent Adventurer camp.”
It was a different idea—one of several that emerged from Cam-Jam ’74—allowing the 31 Adventurers from all participating stakes and areas to organize and maintain their own campsite.
“It was great,” they agreed. “The work got done, but it was done by our schedule and according to our rules. For the first time we were really putting our camp skills to the test.”
The Summiteers (girls who’ve certified in the camping program) agreed. Though smaller by about half in numbers, they were no less enthusiastic about their own independent campsite and schedule. Like the Adventurers, the Summiteers represented a cross section of wards and stakes.
This group made no duty roster. Instead, “everyone pitched in when the work needed to be done. The whole campsite was a group effort.”
The Summiteers did have one planned activity—an overnight canoe trip across Sylvan Lake. It began as a survival trip, “but by departure time, we’d packed a little food in the canoes.” Feeling like true mountain explorers, the group at one point had to make their precarious way through a patch of bullrushes where one canoe got stuck.
“The lake was calm as a mirror that night,” they recalled. “You almost hated to disturb it with your paddle. And the forest was quiet. For a few hours there, we were the only people in the world.”
Even though they ended up packing food, the girls felt that they possessed the necessary knowledge to live off the land.
“Not many girls could eat a snake or a gopher,” one confessed, “but we do know what kinds of edible vegetation to look for. We’ve had enough training to be able to survive.”
While the Summiteers and Adventurers enjoyed the results of their training in the camp certification program, the majority of the girls at Cam-Jam ’74 were involved each morning in getting their certification requirements filled.
Yearlings with whetstones and overly-sharp pocketknives and Mountaineers and Inspirators lashing together planks, twigs, “and anything else that’ll stand still long enough,” as one enthusiastic camper put it—all were in profusion during certification. The girls spent hours hiking, puzzling over compasses, fanning flames into fullblown flint-and-steel fires, memorizing the universal antidote for poisons, and participating in dozens of other campcrafts.
The girls’ afternoons, however, were their own. Dozens swarmed to the waterfront for a swim or a chance at water skiing. Others headed deeper into the woods away from camp to the archery range and obstacle course, and still others sneaked back to their tents for a nap.
Life might have been fun that week, but it was not easy. Running water was a limited luxury, and indoor plumbing was unheard of. Ward camps drew their water for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes and faces from several outdoor faucets and heated it in kettles over campfires. The girls slept in the tents they had erected themselves. Garbage was carefully contained in grease pits, and litter was scrupulously guarded against.
Did this “primitive” way of living change any outlooks?
“Definitely,” said Summiteer Lori Newton. “Out here, you’re reduced to the fundamentals involved in survival. You see things in a broader perspective. For example, if somebody uses your plate or your pocketknife, you don’t say, ‘Hey, that’s mine.’ You say, ‘If you need it, you may have it.’”
The general spirit of sisterhood that pervaded the atmosphere of the whole jamboree even became a part of the practical joking—an inevitable part of every girls’ camp.
One campsite confessed to making raids on their neighbors. Now while your standard raid is nothing better than a practical joke, they explained, a Cam-Jam raid is a secret act of service, “like doing dishes or picking up garbage when no one’s around.”
“Are you impressed?” asked one of the raiders with a grin. “Tomorrow night, we’re taking some Yearlings on a snipe hunt.”
The smooth operation of a jamboree means that a lot of organization is behind it.
“Without organization and a great deal of delegating authority, I don’t think we could have come close to doing what we did,” said Sue Andruski.
In planning the jamboree she divided the major responsibilities among three stakes. Edmonton Alberta Stake was responsible for food, Calgary Alberta North Stake for maintaining the waterfront, and Calgary Alberta Stake for camp certification.
Food deliveries were made every day from town to the main camps. Leaders divided the food planned for each meal, and each camp’s portion was placed in a large laundry basket for pickup in the main camp.
In order to hang onto every possible hour of daylight, campers were even invited to set their watches forward one hour to “Cam-Jam Standard Time.”
At the end of the week’s activities came competitions. There were relay races to construct bedrolls (“the winning team must get their leader inside their bedroll!”) and to tie leaders up in a series of lashing knots. A bakeoff gave some girls a chance to show off cooking skills in everything from reflector ovens to hollowed-out oranges, and to experiment with some exotic camp recipes.
“I don’t know what it is exactly,” one cook confessed, looking into her mixing bowl. “It was left over from last night.”
For girls whose interests leaned toward wildlife, there was a “Creepy Crawler Championship” (featuring live bugs in a race) and a fishing derby. As the winner of the derby proudly held up her catch, one leader examined it and then with a slight cringe announced, “I think it’s a sucker.”
As is the tradition in most Latter-day Saint girls’ camps, the last night was reserved for a testimony meeting. Each of the three sub-camps held their own gathering where girls rose in steady succession to express many outlooks on the week’s experiences.
“There aren’t many Mormons in my school,” said one. “It’s strengthening to spend a week with girls who believe as I do.”
And from another: “I’m not a member of your Church, and so I don’t know a lot about it. I do know that the girls I’ve camped with this past week have become like the sisters I never had.”
With the next morning came the dismantling of tents, the shoveling in of grease pits and campfires, and a lot of mixed emotions: “We’ve had experiences in meeting new people and making friends in a way we might never have again. It’s always hard to see that kind of thing come to an end.”
“Half of me says I want to stay,” mused one sunburned Mountaineer, “and the other half says I want to be clean again.”
Pam Ockey brushed away complaints of “feeling grubby.”
“You can be a lady up here. You might have dirt under your fingernails and all that, but you’re a lady inside because suddenly you care about other people. And that’s the way a true lady is.”
But one of Pam’s fellow campers gave a more down-to-earth analysis of the situation:
“For the first time in my life I’ve actually seen arguments over who got to do the dishes—it was the only way we could keep our hands clean.”