RKY CAMP – The Early Years
Generations of campers have spent their summers at RKY Camp on Eagle Lake, yet few know that the ‘R’ in RKY stands for Rotary. In fact, the acronym RKY is for Rotary, Kiwanis and YMCA. The story of how these three organizations came together back in the 1920s is impressive and was detailed in a paper written by David Boyce in 1972.
The Kingston YMCA had offered annual camping experiences for local boys as early as 1902. Following WW1, with a view to establishing a permanent facility, the Y chose a 25-acre property on Eagle Lake owned by a local farmer, W. Goodfellow. In 1929, the Chair of the YMCA Committee, Professor C.E. Walker of Queen's University, approached the Rotary Club of Kingston and the Kingston Kiwanis Club to help finance the purchase.
On July 3, 1930, the three organizations purchased this property from W. Goodfellow and J. Snider. The original deed was put under the trusteeship of the three representatives: J.C. Reynolds (Rotary), W.H. Herrington (Kiwanis) and C.E. Walker (YMCA). This arrangement of jointly owning and operating a community camp was certainly unique in the province at the time.
Before there was a road into the property, Rotarian Dave Day recalls that the campers would board the K&P train in Kingston and disembark at Tichborne. They would then walk back along the tracks to Parham Landing and then by a road to Eagle Lake. With signals or hearing 5 honks from a car horn, the camp would send over boats and canoes to pick up everyone. Dave Day remembers that whenever a homesick boy would hear those five honks, he would rush to see if his mother or father was coming to visit him.
A dining hall with a huge fireplace, kitchen, and office was built in 1931 as was a framed sleeping hut with 11 bunks. This marked the beginning of the change-over from the canvas tents of Camp Koochpurwani in the 1920s. By 1935, RKY Camp operated from the end of June until early September and included a week dedicated to family camping. It was during this period that the three founding organizations began providing camperships for boys in financial need. This became common practice during WWII when the fathers of many boys were overseas.
Following the war, the camp expanded rapidly with additions to the dining hall in 1951 and again in 1954. New cabins were constructed. The health cabin was expanded to provide room for hospital beds. Docking and the water system were improved. Most of the materials and work involved in these improvements were either donated or supplied at cost, and many hours were put in by 'old campers', including Dave Day and service club members.
1968 was a momentous year when a nearby girls’ camp was merged with RKY Camp. This resulted in a session exclusively for girls. Integration would not follow for many years.
The Homestead dining hall and kitchen was erected in 1977 with the generous support of Kingston philanthropist Brit Smith (an RKY alumni) of Homestead. The Edward and Anna Churchill Foundation also funded improvements to the facilities in the 1980s. Ed was a Rotarian for many years.
By 1990, the tri-ownership model had been working for 60 years and had been the summer camp for thousands of Kingston and area youth. But the story continues and will be told in the next Rotary Reflection.