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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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