CANADIAN CAMPING, DESI STYLE!
By LOVINA D’SOUZA
As much as I love the beautiful snow and exciting winter activities in Canada, after months of cold weather and dark evenings, I cannot wait for the summer.
More specifically, I cannot wait for the camping season. While it is a common form of outdoor relaxation in Canada and a popular topic for discussion in workplaces, that is not the case in our desi culture.
And for my family, as new immigrants to Canada, camping was unheard of. The first time I told my Aunty Cecy in India that we went camping and slept under the trees, her reaction was, “Why did you go all the way to Canada to sleep under the trees? Did you not have enough trees in India?”
Sure, my aunt had a valid point, but I tried to convey to her the feeling of tranquillity that spending time in the woods surrounded by tall trees and lakes brings.
We were introduced to camping by my brother Alwyn and his wife Sharyn and as we complete our 20th year in Canada, we have grown to love it more and more each year. It has become a primary summer activity for our family and a fantastic way to appreciate and celebrate life in Canada.
We kick off the camping season in spring, during the long weekend in May for Victoria Day, when the weather generally begins to warm up. It is definitely not shorts and t-shirt weather yet, but with the right preparation, clothing and equipment, it can be a wonderful way to get away from the hustle and bustle of work and city life. The greenery, lakes, wildlife and a warm campfire at night under the seemingly endless number of stars make it a perfect mini-vacation. It is also an opportunity to relax and admire God’s creation with all its beauty. Then through summer, we take every opportunity to go camping with family and friends. Over the years, we have fun celebrating our birthdays and anniversaries at the camp site or a cottage. We have enjoyed tent camping, cottages, cabins, RV trailers, and yurts. Many come with electricity, heating and air conditioning, some don’t.
Camping helps you stay active and healthy with hiking, swimming, canoeing, paddle boarding, paddling, rowing and kayaking. It also provides opportunities for fishing, learning about animals, fish, birds, reptiles and other creatures and wildlife and how to make a fire. It teaches you to how to care for nature by being responsible about how you use the space. Parks have offices and amphitheatres where you find information, nature related programs and survival tips.
If strenuous activities are not your thing, there is plenty to do right at the campsite itself, including barbecuing, sipping drinks around a camp fire and swapping stories. Many have fun making s’mores around the camp fire. A s’more, as I learned, is a camping delicacy with a roasted marshmallow between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate – sort of like a sandwich. When we were new, we would pick and use thin dry branches of trees from the woods to roast marshmallows.
As per the Ontario Parks website, family camping is one of the great summer traditions in Ontario which has over 100 provincial parks that offer car camping. Car camping allows you to drive right up to campsite. Most parks are open from late spring (May) until autumn (August end/Labour Day or the Thanksgiving weekend in October). A few parks such as Algonquin, MacGregor Point, Pinery and Killarney also offer winter camping and ice fishing.
Our first trip was to a cottage in Peterborough, Ontario. As many of our relatives immigrated to Canada around the same time, everyone was very excited and had fun with this new adventure at the beautiful cottages sitting on top of the large rock over Rice Lake. A cottage trip is much easier than camping and is a good introduction to the outdoors but without the putting up of tents, etc. Many cottages come with beds, linens, a kitchen stocked with pots, pans and an attached washroom. It is a home away from home.
We graduated to tents in a non-electric site and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I love being under a moonlit sky, gazing at the stars with my family and hearing my brother explaining the Milky Way and sharing many other experiences and stories. I love the fresh air, the sound of wind in the trees, and waves from the lake. The serenity of the wilderness in natural light is hard to describe in mere words – it has to be experienced. Waking up to birdsong is another delight. Children love playing in the sand and swimming in the lake.
While getting ready for a camping trip, my husband Kevin and I work as a team along with our three children. First, we go through my checklist and pack all the things in the van. I have added to my list of basic essentials as we got more experienced at camping – or perhaps I should say, camping desi style! The list helps us not to forget anything that we need. For instance, even though sleeping bags are camping staples, we also take our blankets to get a sound sleep.
It might look like we are taking a whole home with us in the van, but we desis do enjoy our rotis, curries and masalas wherever we go. Of the stuff we take, whatever you don’t have at home is easily available at Walmart, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Sail or Bass Pro, etc.
1. Booking, preparation and packing at home.
2. Food arrangements.
3. Clothing, toiletries and grooming products.
4. Medical supplies.
5. Biking, fishing, beach/swimming items.
6. Miscellaneous: Phone, camera, chargers and electronics if necessary.
7. Kids-specific food and games.
8. What to buy at camp store.
9. What to buy from outside the campsite.
10. On arrival at campsite, setting up the tent, sleeping arrangements and unpacking.
11. Taking down the tent and clearing the site; and clearing the stuff on return.
Things we take for camping:
• Tent, hammer, tarp
• Flashlight and lamp
• Sleeping bags/sheets/blankets/pillows. It can turn very cold at the parks even if your city weather is warm and you want to be prepared for any weather and be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep.
• Stove, cylinder, lighter
• Folding chairs
• Table cover and a couple of pots, pans and cutlery
• Disposable/paper plates, cups, spoons, forks
• Scissors, cork/bottle opener
• Paper towels and tissue box
• Garbage bags
• First aid, band aids, Tylenol, Advil and any other medications
• Summer and winter clothing – long pants, sweaters, undergarments, toiletries, hat
• Mosquito repellents, bug spray, uv lotion
• Hats/beach umbrella
• Some toys, beach toys, bats/badminton rackets/birdies.
• Tea, coffee/stove-top kettle, thermos, sugar, oil
• Cooler with ice, beverages, pre-cooked and frozen food, milk, bread/chapati/roti, eggs, biryani, sausages, burgers.
• Some canned food, noodle packets, butter, jam, salad dressing, yogurt, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, baking potatoes/sour cream, onions, pepper, chillie powder and spices, bhel puri mix, raw mango, coriander leaves, green chillie, lemons, sauce, snacks, chips, watermelon, vegetables and fruits.
Alternatively, you can go to the park store or eat at the cafeteria. Most parks have a store that is open at certain hours and carries basic essentials. Many parks are close to the city and within driving distance to a grocery store. You can buy firewood and kindlers from the parks store. It is advised not to take firewood from the city to avoid carrying insects and bugs from the city to the parks.
Enjoy the day doing trails, biking, paddling, kayaking, swimming, etc. When you are done, you can enjoy some ice cream from the camp store.
If your vehicle does not have enough space, you can attach a roof rack on the roof of your vehicle or a storage case at the back of your vehicle and a waterproof bag which provides extra carry on/storage. Please check rules and regulations for these wherever you are travelling.
Some parks rent bikes and provide fishing rods and supplies but we have bought a bicycle rack and take two or three bicycles with us. We also bought fishing rods and the essentials for fishing. You can buy the bait at the park store and some parks have a learn to fish program. Check the camp website and book well in advance to avoid disappointment. Bookings start months ahead of the camping season and we have booked sites as much as five months before the date of our planned camping trip.
On arriving at the park, you need to register your vehicle at the gate and get the slips for the van and the campsite. Parks have friendly staff and are usually very safe. Ontario parks have conveniently-located washrooms and showers. You can also find out about the activities happening in the park from the office. For churchgoers, find out about church services close to the area – some parks have multi denomination service.
Don’t forget to secure your food in your vehicle and clear your garbage once you are finished cooking and eating so that it does not attract any wildlife to your campsite.
Some parks that are further away from the city also have bears. Once my brother, who was visiting from India, saw a black bear just behind him at Killarney Park. He was taking his bags to load in the car before the drive back to Toronto, but having read the park’s booklet, he was well prepared. He dropped the bags quietly and walked back to the yurt. The bear came right up to the door and hung around for about 15 minutes. My brother waited until the bear moved to the nearby woods, but before it left, it tore open those carefully packed bags. These instances are rare and I am sharing this not to alarm you or turn you away from camping, but to help you be better prepared.
Even those who don’t want to drive or don’t have their own vehicle can enjoy the great outdoors. Use public transportation or rent a car. My younger daughter has gone camping with her friend using public transport and park bus. They planned well, carried just a few basic things (unlike us who carry a whole home!) and they had an enjoyable and great camping experience.
Jasmine is a happy camper who shares her camping experience here:
“I was the lucky winner of a camping trip to Tobermory, Ontario. Who else could I enjoy it with other than my best friend Caroline? Tobermory is a charming town at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. We were picked up from Toronto and dropped off at the park by coach bus. We managed to fit everything we needed into a suitcase and also took a portable stove and some basic essentials for camping. Though it was heavy to carry and walk from the front of the camp to our campsite, walking together, chatting and laughing, it was simply amazing and we had a blast. We bought things like pasta, canned food and water from the park store and enjoyed our weekend of hiking and kayaking, etc. There were a lot of trails nearby.
“The only problem that can arise for those without their own vehicles is that they are limited in their ability to explore outside the camp. Always carry a rope and a cooler with a lock – especially when you do not have a vehicle – as you need to lock the food in the cooler and hang it on a tree at night to store and for safety from wildlife. I learnt a lot from this camping without a vehicle which really tested our patience and it was a worthwhile learning experience.”
“Every summer, camping is at the top of my must-do list of activities; whether it is with my family or friends; I always have a blast,” says Caroline, another adventurous camper. “One of my favourite camping experiences was at Elora Gorge campground with two of my best friends. We all carpooled and headed to Grand River Valley for a two-night trip. Before heading there, we loaded up our car with groceries. We arrived in the evening and there was much giggling while trying to put up our tent in the dark and getting bitten by mosquitos. My advice to first-time campers is to take long pants, shirts, and socks to save you from the mosquito bites.
“Once we finished setting up, we quickly prepared supper on our gas stove. All three of us managed to crawl into our two-person tent, setting our alarms for an early rise. We drifted into sleep in our sleeping bags under multiple layers of blankets. The next morning, we ate a quick breakfast, put on our bathing suits, and headed straight to the tubing rental area as we were warned that the tubes get rented out quickly. The rapids made me a little nervous, but after seeing the little children fearless on the rapids, I tightened my life jacket and braved it. We spent the most incredible few hours going down the rapids on our inflated tubes and when my friend Jasmine’s tube flipped over, we burst out laughing. Tubing created an enormous appetite and we had a typical camp meal of corn on the cob and “spider sausages” around the campfire. I love looking up at the sky when camping and seeing billions of bright stars staring back at me. When we woke up the next morning, our campsite neighbour brought peameal bacon for us and we all ate breakfast together. The remainder of the day was spent hiking. As all good things come to an end until you plan another one, it was time to pack up and wind down our fun-filled camping weekend.
“Camping always reminds me of how fortunate we are to have this beautiful earth. It makes me think more consciously about being more respectful of our environment and consider the future of our planet. Personally, I cannot wait to go camping again and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature once again.”
I would encourage everyone to go camping, even if it is just for one night. Many campsites even have wi-fi now for those who have a hard time giving up technology or have no data.
For the beginners, the easiest camping is with Ontario Parks where you feel comfortable and safe. Check and reserve your campsite early to find sites suitable for you like those with a washroom close by or a site with more shade and so on. There is a booking cancellation/change fee.
Some campsites also have a learn to camp program where they provide the basic necessities like tents and fishing equipment required for camping. Group camping is also common and details can be found on the Ontario parks website.
We mostly book non-electric tent campsites. My mom, who is 90-plus, always comes camping with us and has adapted well to the Canadian lifestyle. She enjoys it and has no trouble sleeping in the tent on the floor with comforters.
I had a thrilling experience two years ago when we camped at Sibbald Point provincial park in Sutton, Ontario. During our walk, we spotted some animals. We did not know what they were, but as a photographer I took a keen interest and clicked some photos. While a park staff member was telling me that we had seen a fox and fox kits, a poster for a photo contest caught my attention. I submitted my photo and was overjoyed to win my very first photo contest. The photograph I took was published on the cover page of Ontario Parks Guide-Sibbald Point 2016.
Do not forget to capture some memories of your first camping with your camera or cellphone.
Please visit my website http://photographerlavi.wixsite.com/lavi and click on the Desi News link. Open the document for a detailed list of items that can make your camping experience more comfortable. It is especially prepared from a desi point of view!
I wish you all happy camping. I hope you enjoy it and have great experiences.
Turkish author and playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan captures the essence of camping: “Without the intense touch of nature, you can never fully freshen yourself! Go for camping and there both your weary mind and your exhausted body will rise like a morning sun!”