St. Vincent de Paul Camp, est. 1971
A Summer of Fun, a Lifetime of Memories!
History of Camp Vincent (St. Vincent de Paul Camp)
Camp Vincent, also known as St. Vincent de Paul Camp, is a residential summer camp for children ages 6 – 15 yrs old. We accommodate over 700 children each summer from all walks of life, and strive to provide an outdoor program that helps children grow in mind, body, and spirit.
The camp was established by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in 1971, approximately 4 miles east of Thamesville, Ontario. In 1970, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Particular Council (Emiel Laevens, Trefle Laprise, Joe Johns, and Henry Faubert) were invited to a meeting at St. Joseph’s Rectory (Chatham). The Bruce Bradley Family had offered a 69 acre sod farm near Bothwell to be used in some way for youth. The St. Vincent de Paul Society aimed to purchased the land for $24 000, but the generosity of the Bradley family reduced the price to $15 000!
At the time, St. Ursula’s parish in Chatham was building a new church. The Particular Council purchased the old prefabricated church for $1.00, which was dissassembled and refurbished on the camp site to be used for offices, staff sleeping quarters, and a large recreation room. Winter Works of the Federal Government contributed approximately $65 000 toward wages for six staff to remodel the church building.
They were able to move the chapel from St. Joseph’s Hospital property in Chatham and convert it into a craft hall with a storage room added to the back. Soon after, they built a washroom building and dining hall with a kitchen and walk in cooler. The camp was also given a two bedroom house, which had been on the River Road Dover, and had it moved to the camp site. The Provincial Government contributed a grant of $11 000 which allowed for the construction of a 30×40 swimming pool. A bequest from the DeShaw estate in the amount of $65 000 was to assist with applications of under privileged children and to help maintain the camp.
The camp opened for July and August 1971 and accommodated 71 children total. Before long, we reached a capacity of over 700 children each summer! The opening fees in the 1970s were $45.00 per child for the week. Children were accommodated from Chatham, Windsor, Sarnia, and London areas. Today, Camp Vincent accommodates children from as far as Toronto and Niagara Falls regions! The Vincentians and supporting community members have been extremely generous in providing their time, talents, and resources in helping to keep the camp running smoothly.
Joe Johns recalls “I noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign on a far along the Thames River. Real Estate salesman was Joe Haslam. River frontage of the farm was 2200 feet and ran from Highway #2 to Thames River. We visited Mr. John Bradley and arranged three payments of $5 000 each over three years”.
Henry Faubert recalls “I remember in 1970 when Joe Johns called myself, Emiel Laevens and Trefle LaPrise to go to a meeting at St. Joseph’s Church to talk about buying land that the Bradley Family owned near Bothwell. It had 69 acres of land. It was located on #2 Highway, near the Bothwell road. The four of us had a meeting. The first meeting was a big experience – not one of us knew anything about camps! We had a meeting at St. Joseph’s rectory. We were talking, but not saying much! Then Father came into the room and said “Do you want the camp or not?”. So guess what? We sure made up our minds in a hurry and said “Yes”.
Bradley wanted $24 000 for the land. St. Vincent de Paul had no money! Then Bradley sold us the land for $15 000. We gave receipts to Bradley for $5 000 a year for each of three years. The government accepted this arrangement. It was nice of the Bradleys to do that! The first year the camp open we had 71 children. We charged $45.00 a week at that time. The camp has reached higher than 700 campers per year since then! The price eventually increased.
“I spent alot of time at the camp in the summer, helping to do repairs. Emiel Laevens and Bernerd Sterling would be working at the camp too. Joe Johns was our advisor. I worked hard at St. Vincent de Paul Camp, getting it ready for campers. Gerard Laevens controlled all the weeds at the camp for many years. Today there are over 700 campers using the camp during the summer months!”
The camp is located in one of the largest and most significant forested areas in southwestern Ontario for size, diversity, forest cover and rare species. Known as Bothwell Forest or “Skunk’s Misery”, the area contains many unique opportunities for the observation of wildlife that is seldom found anywhere else!
Camp Vincent consists of approximately 69 acres, over half of which is forested. Some of our many activities include swimming, hiking, canoeing, archery, arts (crafts, art, dance, music, and drama), nature discovery, campouts, sporting activities, wagon rides, and camp-wide games. One of the most significant aspects of our camp, and the driving force behind all of our activities is the weekly theme and programming. Each week, campers embark on a themed adventure and engaging story through the use of games, characters, story lines, and props. Each week, our various activities revolve around a particular theme and encourage campers to become characters in a unique story!
Our facilities include 10 well-ventilated cabins, a large washroom building with showers, a fully stocked infirmary, a spacious rec hall, dining hall, arts hall, and swimming pool. Our facilities also boast a large and spacious recreational field for sporting activities and games complete with a baseball diamond, volleyball field, and soccer field, as well as a large trailed forested area.