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CAMP HISTORY

Camp Bellaleo is on Belwood Lake in the Grand River system; the Grand River opens into Belwood Lake at the town of Belwood and empties back into the Grand River flowing south through the town of Fergus. The camp land is leased from the Grand River Conservation Authority.

The Etobicoke-Queensway Lions Club opened the camp in 1957 and operated Bellaleo right up until 2001. When Jay and Vicki Haddad were hired by the Etobicoke-Queensway LIons as Directors in 1992, Zak Haddad was only 3 years old! At that time Bellaleo applied to the Ontario Camping Association to become an accredited camp. After two years as a Provisional Member, Camp Bellaleo was fully accredited in 1995 and remains an accredited O.C.A. camp to this day. 

Lakeshore Lions oversaw Camp Bellaleo from 2002 until the new Mastercard Centre (four-pad complex) was completed in early 2010; lacking funding from Lakeshore, Camp Bellaleo was closed. The parents, alumni, Queensway Lions and Behind the Scenes Services initiated Camp Nokomis (Ojibwe word for "my grandmother"). Camp Nokomis ran its summer camp, L.I.T. program and school groups out of Bancroft (2010) and Mansfield (2011).

John Cherrie, Past-President of Lakeshore Lions, met with Zak Haddad in September 2011 to discuss reuniting Camp Nokomis with the idle Bellaleo site. Through negotiations and discussions among Camp Nokomis, Lakeshore Lions and Grand River Conservation Authority, an agreement was made and Camp Nokomis returned "home" to the Bellaleo site from 2012 until 2023! For the summer of 2024, the camp has returned to it's original name of Camp Bellaleo, please read the open letter from Zak Haddad below for more information.

CAMP DIRECTORS
George & Norah Petrie 1957-1969

Les & Marg Watson 1970-1990

Peter & Nancy Allan 1991

Jay & Vicki Haddad 1992-2011

Jay & Vicki Haddad, Senior Directors 2012-Present

Zak Haddad 2012-Present

Alexa Skinner-Haddad 2016-Present

CAMP BELLALEO 1957

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FROM NOKOMIS TO BELLALEO

A TRUE STORY OF PERSPECTIVE, LEARNING & HUMILITY
BY ZAK HADDAD

PERSPECTIVE

This children’s camp on Lake Belwood, was named Camp Bellaleo in 1957 and it is a deeply special place for me. Hired by the Queensway Lions Club in 1992, my parents started operating Camp Bellaleo when I was only three years old. I knew I wanted to do the same thing one day. One of the enduring goals of our camp is ensuring that all children can experience the magic of summer camp regardless of their financial situation. Therefore, we try to subsidize over 80% of our campers, which poses a financial challenge. In 2009 the Lakeshore Lions Club had stretched themselves too thin by investing millions of dollars towards building the Mastercard Center (now called the Ford Performance Center) and unfortunately they were not able to open Camp Bellaleo on Lake Belwood for two summers. The unfortunate closure of the camp was a devastating blow for myself and many others who were left feeling empty and sad without the idea of spending summer at their home away from home. If this wasn’t bad enough we weren’t allowed to run camp ourselves at the Lake Belwood location, and we couldn’t take the name Bellaleo with us. This was a very challenging time, as we were forced to choose a new name and find a new location to operate camp within a very short period of time.

The decision to change the camp's name to "Camp Nokomis" in 2010 was a significant and deeply personal one, born out of a challenging and transformative period in the camp's history, influenced by two significant factors. First, an authentic admiration for Indigenous culture and its history, along with a desire to incorporate as much of this culture into the camp's identity. Second, the name held (and still holds) a personal significance as a tribute to my favourite person in the world, my grandmother. In 2009, she was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer (she actually shared this devastating news with me at camp), and passed away in 2012 after a long battle. With a meaningful new name and lots of determination, we moved our entire summer community and rented out two vacant camps in 2010 and 2011. After spending two summers away from home and making the best out of the situation, I reached my breaking point. I picked up the phone and called the President of the Lakeshore Lions Club. We met for coffee which turned into an evening, and long story short, transferred the lease from the Lakeshore Lions Club into our new company's name (with the approval of the Grand River Conservation Authority). We RETURNED HOME to Lake Belwood as Camp Nokomis! For the first time ever, we now had full autonomy of how things would operate and exactly what our identity would be. What was once the worst thing that had ever happened to me turned out to be the best thing. Perspective.

LEARNING

Although this story should be one of success, when we look back at it now sadly, it is tainted. After 13 years of operating as Camp Nokomis and incorporating elements of Indigenous culture and education with wholehearted and good intentions, we now realize the goal itself was flawed. Through the process of continuous and life-long learning, we now look back at our goal and have concluded that although well intentioned, it was a much more complex and multifaceted issue that would have required learning from and consultation with Indigenous peoples every step of the way. In summary, we will always put learning before action as the first step in our journey to respect and honour Indigenous peoples and their culture and history.

HUMILITY

After careful and continuous discussion spanning the course of the last five years, we as a business have agreed to remove all signs, symbols or language that could harm, hurt or cause discomfort to the indigenous community. We will continue to provide and increase the amount of Indigenous Education that we offer our entire camping community. Whenever possible we will have these teachings exclusively taught by members of the Indigenous community. Lastly, Camp Nokomis will be returning to its original name - Camp Bellaleo

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