Grant McKenna

Camp Director
Grant McKenna

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The Shadow Thief

Le voleur d’ombres or The Shadow Thief by Marc Levy is a touching novel. It tells the story of a boy at two periods of his life: as a twelve year old arriving at a new school in a new town, whose father leaves home suddenly, his first love, and his early struggles to find his place in the school and in the town; and later as a young adult at medical school, falling in love, dealing with his mother’s death, and finding his true love. Le voleur d’ombres is a love story: the love between a mother and son, first love between a young boy and girl, and a son’s love for an absent father.

The protagonist of the novel has a unique power. He discovers that he can steal the shadows of others and that the shadows will speak with him and reveal the deepest wishes of their owners. With this power, he sets out to make the dreams of his friends come true. He helps the school janitor break free from his past to pursue his dreams. He helps his best friend break free from his parents’ expectations and go to medical school. He helps a fellow medical student discover why a young patient is starving himself to death. In the end, he also learns to pursue his own dreams.


Camp Nominingue is also a place where dreams can come true! Our philosophy is to give campers opportunities – to learn new skills, to meet new people, to take on new challenges, to make decisions each day about how they will use their time and what challenge they want to take on. For two hours each morning, campers participate in our instruction program. Each week, campers choose two activities from a list of twenty activities. For six days, campers will learn new skills and practise previously learned skills to increase their competency. Twice a day, at free swim, campers once again have a choice: they may go for a swim or take a canoe or a sailboat out; they may play tennis or take a basketball from the equipment room and head down to the basketball court; they may also choose to read a book or play tetherball back in the section. A staff: camper ratio of 1 to 3 ensures that each area is adequately supervised at this time of day.

Canoe tripping has always been an important activity at Nominingue, but it is important that each camper make the decision to head out on a canoe trip. Although we encourage the boys to go on a canoe trip, the choice is entirely up to them. Canoe trips range in length from an overnight up to 10 days. Length of canoe trip is dependent on the age, skill and experience of each camper.

Making friends is an important part of camp. Campers are put in small groups in their tent – 5 campers to a tent up to the age of thirteen and 3 to a tent for fourteen and fifteen year olds. Most canoe trip parties are also made up of 5 campers. These small groups are ideal for promoting the development of friendships among the campers. The counsellors are also present to help campers who do not find this process quite so easy. With 20% of the campers coming from outside the country and another 25% from outside Quebec, friendships formed at Nominingue are often from across the country and around the world.

We can’t promise that every camper will achieve all of his goals, take on every challenge or find a best friend…but Nominingue does provide every camper with the opportunity to do so. Achieving one’s dream is within the grasp of each and every camper!

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Stonehenge 2000 BC

Stonehenge 2000 BC by Bernard Cornwell is not his best novel. At times the action seems to drag, quite atypical in a Cornwell novel. This might be because there is no history to rely on to move the plot forward. What is known about Stonehenge is based on archaeological work. Nothing is known about individuals who lived at that time.

The central character in the story is Saban, who is a young boy at the start of the story and is chosen the new chief at the end of the novel. In between, the chief, Saban’s father, is killed by Saban’s brother who, in turn, is killed by another of his brothers. At the same time as the struggle for political leadership is taking place, the gods are also at war to control the minds of the communities. Slaol, the sun, is the dominant god in Ratharryn, where Saban lives, while Lahanna, the moon, is dominant in the neighbouring community of Cathallo. It is these political and religious conflicts that lead the community of Ratharryn to build Stonehenge. The gods are omnipresent in the lives of the people, require regular sacrifice to be appeased and determine every major decision in the community.

When I was a camper at Nominingue in 1972, I can remember attending chapel on Sunday morning and occasionally singing a hymn found in the camp songbook. Chapel was definitely non-denominational, and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic campers could comfortably attend. Chapel is still non-denominational in 2012, and no hymns appear in the current songbook! Even the use of the term chapel is a bit of a misnomer. Each week, a group of campers or staff are in charge of chapel. Planning begins with the choice of a theme. “Friendship”, “Courage” or “determination” might be the chosen theme in a particular week. If middle camp is in charge of that week’s chapel, middle camp staff and campers will choose stories and songs related to the theme. Campers and staff who have something to say or who want to be involved, have the opportunity to speak to everyone in attendance.

For me, the best part of chapel is the chance to sit quietly looking out over “Bloodsucker Bay” or “Bullfrog Bay” if one wishes, reflecting on the theme, watching a duck or beaver swim past, listening to the wind blowing in the trees, feeling the heat of the sun slowly warming the morning air, and just enjoying the peace and beauty around me. Chapel is an opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for!

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Young Thugs

At Camp Nominingue, we are lucky in that most of the campers that we work with are very unlikely to ever become street gang members. In his book Young Thugs, Michael C. Chettleburgh identifies socio-economic forces as the primary reason why young people join gangs. Despite this, the motivations that lead young people to join gangs are the same motivations that lead youth to form groups, join teams and seek out friend groups.

Young Thugs is divided into two parts: the first focuses on the lure of street gangs, and the second on confronting and controlling street gangs. I found the first part particularly interesting and the second part a bit drier. Michael C. Chettleburgh stresses the necessity of dealing with the root causes of gang growth by improving job opportunities for youth in low income areas and improving programs to integrate immigrants into Canadian society. Chettleburgh also explains clearly how our prison system contributes to gang expansion and how the system is failing to rehabilitate any of its inmates.

The drive that leads young people to join gangs exists in all of us: we like to live in packs; we like to have a group where we can share ideas, protect and care for each other; we look for the camaraderie of the group, to enjoy recreation opportunities, and collaborate in the achievement of a common purpose. For many campers and staff at Camp Nominingue, this is exactly what camp achieves! Most campers stay at camp for two to three weeks. They live in tents in groups of five until the age of thirteen and then in groups of three until the age of fifteen. All campers learn and practice new skills in the company of other campers who are interested in learning similar skills. There is a canoe trip for everyone who wants to experience one – a group of five campers and two counsellors set out from camp for 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 days, paddling, portaging and setting up camp each night at a new site.

For many campers and staff, Nominingue becomes their second home. In the fall, after the return from camp, camp stories fill their conversations. During the winter, camp friendships are maintained through common interests and activities, and modern technology. In the spring, planning for the summer and dreaming of canoe trips and other fun occupy the thoughts of many. There are numerous factors that contribute to the creation of this second home: the bonds of friendship that are forged on a challenging portage or while sitting in the tent during a storm; the support of a thoughtful counsellor in a time of need; the exhilaration of success achieved in learning a new skill, in winning a difficult challenge, or in coming together as a team.

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The Archer’s Tale

The Archer’s Tale or Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Battle of Crécy, fought in 1346 between the English and the French. It is however, much more the story of an archer, Thomas of Hookton, who joins an English troop of archers operating as mercenaries in France, after the destruction of his village. During the course of the novel, Thomas learns about his family history, of his father’s flight from his family and of his family’s Cathar heritage. He also learns of the primacy of the longbow in fourteenth century warfare.

The Battle of Crécy occurred towards the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. The English were generally victorious, relying on their virtual monopoly of the longbow, against the French who relied on their knights and the crossbow. Eventually, canons and muskets would replace the bow as the primary weapons used for killing the enemy in warfare from a distance. The skills that enabled the English to dominate the battlefield were no longer required and archery went into decline.

Archery has been part of most camp programs forever, as it has at Nominingue. Archery was likely included as an activity in camp programs because of its use by the First Nation communities in Canada, but its use certainly pre-dates European arrival in North America. At camp, we teach the use of a re-curve bow as well as a compound bow. We shoot at targets. The goal is not to practise a hunting skill, but to practise a sport that requires concentration, aim and some strength, and a sport that is included in the summer Olympics.

In 2012, with the release of the movie Hunger Games, many bow shops noticed an upward spike in the purchase of bows, and archery clubs have experienced an increase in membership. I’m not sure that archery at camp will change much – we will continue to replace old and well-used equipment; we will continue to teach the skill of the archer; and campers will continue to enjoy the thrill of hitting the target…dead centre!

My library does not have the subsequent novels in the Grail Quest series, so I guess I will have to buy them. I am hooked!

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Anthill by E.O. Wilson is a fascinating book. It tells the story of Raphael Semmes Cody, the only child of a poor couple from southern Alabama, who as a child falls in love with the wilderness tract around Lake Nokobee; who develops an interest in observing animals of all kinds, in particular ants; who is supported through university by a well-to-do uncle with designs on grooming him for the family business; whose undergraduate thesis becomes “The Anthill Chronicles”, which describes the rise and fall of ant colonies on the edge of Lake Nokobee; who chooses to go to Harvard Law School to specialize in environmental law; who finally joins the land development company whose intention is to develop the land around Lake Nokobee.

“The Anthill Chronicles” tell the story of one particular ant colony that, due to a variety of factors, expands far beyond the size of a typical ant colony. It grows beyond the ability of its members to feed themselves. Before a natural disaster occurs, the huge anthill is destroyed by humans. The writer draws a clear parallel between ants and humans. The ant colony is compared to the earth where population expansion is out of control, where the only way to survive is to attempt to expand continuously and the only way out must be destruction.

On his path towards the final crisis, when the land development company finally has the opportunity to purchase the Nokobee tract of land and to develop it, Raphael learns to walk a tightrope, to behave ethically in representing the interests of the company and, at the same time, to save the land that means so much to him. It is this ability, of one individual who remains true to his values, that shines through in Anthill!

At Camp Nominingue, we work hard to create situations that challenge boys to develop their skills, to test out their ideas, to demonstrate their leadership and to forge their independence. In camp, this might occur at instruction, as campers develop their skills working through four skill levels at a variety of instructional activities. It might happen during a large group activity during the tribal games or voyageur games, as campers learn to cooperate with their team-mates to lead their team to victory. Opportunities to run a triathlon, to perform on stage, to climb the wall, to carve a paddle, to hike a mountain or to participate in a canoe or sailing race are available almost every day. A canoe trip, whether an overnight for 8 year olds or a ten day for 15 year olds, is another opportunity for campers to shine – as one camper lights a fire in the rain, another carries a heavy pack over a distance of a kilometre and another camper learns to read a map as the canoes drift out in the middle of a lake.

This skill building, the challenges, the opportunities for decision-making and to take on a leadership role help develop a boy’s character. With the guidance of a skilled staff and outstanding role-models, boys at Camp Nominingue have the opportunity to develop their values and to test their identity. The ultimate end is personal growth, a gain in self-confidence, in independence and in his sense of responsibility. Camp is also a pretty fun way to spend the summer!

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