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Camp Kopje — reminiscences of Douglas Broome

“Summer camp.

The horse shivers to shake off the horseflies, snorts as girls handle tackle and Western saddles, old leather, hay and muck. A salt lick. The barn looks cool in the shadow of the cottonwoods and pines. Hot high sun. One girl goes into the orchard to cool off in the ka-chk’s of the sprinklers spraying cherry trees with purpling fruit, how many can you get in your mouth? No one in the city knows what a cherry is, they get picked too early, but these trees are camp trees for climbing and pit spitting.  And the orchard preserves venerable apricot trees with fruit the size of a large peach and juice filled. Last of the species in the Okanagan.

Camp Kopje brochure

Camp Kopje brochure 2

Camp Kopje Okanagan. Fifties. 3,000 feet of glorious lakeshore for girl campers. And me. My mother was the director/owner. At age eight I got three other boys to keep me company. The camp pamphlet mentioned no boys. It said 32 girls age 10 to 16. Two three-week sessions. We were under the table and off the books boys, word of mouth only boys. We had our own tent platform called Kembo. Why Kembo? Well, for the same reason the girls cabins were called Kaboola, Kabasha, Kaleema and their tribes Zulu, Watusi and Pygmy. The same reason the day started with the Salutation to the Dawn and the raising of the Union Jack, and the reason the length of the post-lunch quiet time coincided precisely with the duration of my mother’s naps. It’s The Way Things Are. Even camp songs didn’t recognize our existence. The girls would sing “There were three cabins in a row—Kaboola, Kabasha and Kaleema” and four boys would yell “Kembo!”

I don’t believe we were Lord of the Flies boys but I can’t recall any boys’ counsellor. We seemed to exist in a parallel universe of raft and fort building and minnow fishing and our toilet was the two seater down by the boathouse. Remember to sprinkle lime.

Camp Kopje

Kopje was paradise. Many make the claim but Kopje elicits faraway looks and statements about never having been in a more beautiful place. In the early ‘80s I went to a Socred convention using a press card from The Democrat, the NDP publication. The person at registration said she would have to check with the credentials chair.  This estimable lady came down and cried “Dougie Broome! I used to carry you on my back!” Although I had forgotten our previously intimate relationship all credentials problems disappeared. Kopje magic.

Girls came back repeatedly, summer after summer, and when they aged some got invited back as counsellors-in-training, the staff keeping the traditions.

My mother had been director of an Ontario camp on the Georgian Bay. She instantly saw the camp potential of Kopje when she was with my father on a business trip to the Okanagan in 1950. Kopje is 40 acres (15 in orchard) along a half-mile  of lakeshore; the southern half benchland with clay bluffs down to a narrow beach, and the northern a private bay with flatland. It had a 1910 house, a barn, one cabin and outbuildings in 1950. And the whole lot was my parents for $15,000. (At the time Carrs Landing Road was one lane of clay throwing up a billows of dust with only about 15 farmhouses along its length. In the stillness of the Okanagan day you got to know the sound of each vehicle and you also knew your neighbours through party lines—we shared our line with five neighbours and our ring was four shorts.)

Camp Kopje

Stillness was the dominant quality of Kopje, peacefulness. Yes, the trees were alive with songbirds and chipmunks, the laughter of girls’ echoing over the lake, but in a context of extraordinary peace.  A stillness that allowed someone on the beach to yell to someone in a canoe a half mile away. On the lake was one of its two islands, a reserve for Canada geese—the nobel migrating sort of Canada geese, not the lazy False Creek that strut around with an attitude squaking ‘Gimme popcorn’ when they should be off  on their way to Mexico.

The Okanagan Indian name for Kopje had been beautiful bay. Kopje is Afrikaans for hill. Mr. Gibson who built the main house and started the orchard was a Boer War veteran who named the hill behind camp Spionkop.”

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Doug Broome is the author of this reminiscence of summers at Camp Kopje, a summer camp for girls which was owned and operated by the Broome family. Doug also supplied the Camp Kopje brochure and the photographs.

This property is now the Kopje Regional Park and the restored house is known as the Gibson Heritage House.

This article will be presented in three parts on this blog. This is part one.

1 Comment

  • I remember one summer between camps (no campers) three of us counsellors were sitting on the porch of the big house when we saw strange ripples in the perfectly still lake. They appeared to be caused by a large undulating fish? with humps. We were sure it was the Ogopogo.

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