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Attending a YMCA residential camp can be such a transformational experience. From the children aged six to seventeen who attend for one to two weeks, to the counsellors who work the whole summer, YMCA residential camps offer children and youth confidence, leadership skills, a sense of accomplishment, the feeling of belonging, the joy of friendship, and closeness to nature.  

Our very own Big Cove YMCA Camp, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, is the oldest continuously running residential camp in Canada. Ardythe Wildsmith, a long-time supporter of Big Cove, worked there as a counsellor in the mid-1960s. “I was very musical, involved with choir and dance, so I brought a more artistic perspective to the job,” says Ardythe, also known to her fellow campers as Ardy. “Before going to camp though, I had never been in a canoe, so I had a bit of a learning curve that first summer!” Growing up in the North End of Halifax, Ardythe heard about the counsellor jobs while attending the High Y program at the South Park YMCA.  

“At that time in Halifax, there were very clear divisions, including North-South, poor-wealthy, and Catholic-Protestant. What I loved about the YMCA and Big Cove was that none of that mattered – everyone is equal at the Y,” she says. “To this day, the YMCA emphasizes that it doesn’t matter where you come from – you can be whatever you want to be.” 

Briad Posavad, a former YMCA camper and the current President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth, has experienced the transformative effects of YMCA camp himself, but also has seen the impacts on his own children.  

“What’s great about going to camp is that children get to be who they want to be in a safe and nurturing environment, though they don’t really know it,” says Brian. “Children are safe at camp but they only know that they are away from their parents and begin to gain that sense of independence which in turn builds their confidence.” 

Both of Brian’s sons also enjoyed the YMCA camp experience. “It’s amazing to see the changes in your kids after they come back from camp,” says Brian. “They came back as different kids! They were so connected and they had a sense of pride and accomplishment from their time at camp that was great to see as a parent.”