WORLD'S OLDEST CAMPS

Draft

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Discussion

This is a list not of campsites or camp facilities or legal entities, but of organizations and their programs. It is not a snapshot of a century ago, but a celebration of today's living elders of organized camping.

Tracing the Organization

The organization is like a human that grows, moves around, evolves, changes names, produces offspring. Some of these camps are sub-organizations within larger organizations or legal entities, but have still maintained their separate organization and camp program.

As camps evolve they may replace their facilities or even move to a new site, as most on this list have done at some point. The camp is its people and its activity, the organized program. That is what I have traced to the present.

Time, lost records, fading memories all contribute to the imperfection of the list. Each camp provided its own data. In some cases other literature or records were located. Each camp was interviewed to make sure that it met the "organized program" tests.

Poking Around the World

Finding the oldest Canadian and American camps was comparatively easy next to the task of canvassing the rest of the world. I started with H. W. Gibson's premise that the organized camping movement as it existed in North America in 1910 was born there.

In 1936, the American Camping Association's past president H. W. Gibson wrote The History of Organized Camping. It was published as a series in The Camping Magazine. He places the start of organized camps outside of North America in 1911 with the founding of the Greek YMCA's Camp Pelion. If this was true, my search was over, because both Canada and the U.S. have 27 camps operating today that were founded before 1900.  

Finding any earlier international camps would, of course, disprove the premise and this I attempted to do. It was a daunting task because few countries have enough camps to support a national camping association, so those camps that exist are difficult to locate. I started with the International Camping Fellowship, which has attempted to create the first world camping organization, and its contacts.  Japan seems the most established with its National Camping Association of Japan and it confirmed that camping started there in the 1920s. I successfully contacted individual camps in Brazil, Venezuela, Switzerland, Malaysia, Ireland and Greece. All of these countries got into camping after 1910. Certainly, with this stunted survey, I could find nothing to disprove Gibson's conclusion. 

In the end, the world list remains a compilation of the lists of Canada's Oldest and the United States' Oldest, cut off at 1895.

When is a Camp a Camp

From outside of North America, the term camp is not normally associated with an organized camp of the American camping movement. So let's be clear, military, prison, political and refugee camps are excluded. Communist countries of Europe and Asia had camps in many ways similar to the organized camp of North America largely for children of industrial workers, but these came after 1910.

Oldest List

CAMP PAGES: 

World's Oldest Camps

U.S. Oldest Camps

Canada's Oldest Camps

World's Largest Wood-Canvas Canoe Fleets List

Temagami Youth Camps List (historical)

Keewaydin Way

Photo: Group at Keewaydin Camp, 1920s

                                            Lewis Family Collection

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