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Your Adventure Begins Here...

Mon, 2017-01-30 10:11

It’s over, the end of what seems like a brief moment in history for about 10,000 students. It actually may be a bit more than ten thousand. Regardless of the number it’s over. It was a ride that was both very good and at times incredibly bad. There were moments that laughter, joy and learning were experienced in spades. Equally there were moments that everything was questioned and much was doubted.

It came about after a long period of time full of adult bullying and actual threats.

Where profits and greed were put far ahead of making a difference and showing kindness.

Most people, in fact almost no one knows the whole story. I wish you were there the day it all began, all started. Where I sat beside a long time friend, told him my plan and he said, “You’re crazy! It won’t work. I don’t see it?!” In fact there weren’t many people that ever gave me any support in the beginning. Some did with reluctance. Most shook their head and said simply, “Good luck”.

There wasn’t much there to be honest. I can see why friends were pessimistic. It was pretty “sketchy”. Far more work ahead and so many unanswered questions. What was I doing?

What am I talking about?

YLCC Pigeon Lake.

On Friday I sold it. It’s a chapter of my life that has now almost closed. For the last 18 or so months I have been trying to sell it. It has been nothing short of challenging. With many offers coming and going for various reasons. I questioned my decision more than a few times. I always loved the spot. No better sunsets in the world than at Pidge (as we call it). I mean that. I live on Lake Huron for part of the year and I still think the Pigeon Lake sunset sometimes rival those Huron crimson, fiery evenings.

Here’s what you should know. Pigeon Lake YLCC began as “Camp Cleveland” in 1941. An American family from Ohio came to Canada to follow their dream of opening a family camp like the one depicted in “Dirty Dancing”. Evening dances, swimming in the lake, incredible fishing and their famous roast beaf dinners. I was told that people would drive the 35 minute drive from Peterborough to have their Sunday dinners and watch the sunset.

In the 1990’s it became a full out fishing camp and the decline began. Some good intentioned anglers decided they could run a business. They found out it was harder than they thought and eventually went bankrupt. Leaving the once loved camp to rot and waste away slowly over the next few decades…

That’s where YLCC came in. When I found it. You see I had been renting a camp in Oro (just outside of Orillia) since 2003 and the developer who leased it to us was developing a good chunk of the property into high end, million dollar, “cottage” lots. His development was going poorly and in 2007 he began trying to gently encourage me to buy the camp from him. He proposed I give him $10,000,000 for it. I knew it wasn’t worth that. I knew he was desperate. He was running out of money as the local town council (eventually the province) was requiring him to undertake extremely expensive (and justifiable) environmental impact studies. The development would impact (and has impacted) the natural untouched woodlands. Our camp in 2003 was the largest undeveloped piece of land on all of Lake Simcoe. It has been a children’s camp since 1929.

As time went on the developer got more and more desperate for me to buy the camp portion of the property. He dropped it down to $5,000,000. I still knew it wasn’t worth that as a piece of real estate. I also simply didn’t have the money. As they say, you can’t take blood from a stone.

It became a very desperate situation when the developer called me one Friday afternoon and said I had 1 month to give him $3,000,000 or he would bulldoze the buildings and develop the land into condo’s. I was terrified. I didn’t have the money. What would happen next? We had already accepted hundreds of camper registrations for the upcoming summer and scheduled dozens of schools to use the camp. We could potentially be homeless.

That’s when I found Pigeon Lake or as it was called, “The Ennismore Inn and Resort”. It was in sad shape. I made an offer, I had no financing, I took it “as is”. I had no conditions. I was desperate. I wouldn’t be bullied. I needed to have a back-up plan.

The deal went through quickly and I suddenly owned a derelict, abandoned and run-down fishing camp. When I took a few of my staff over to see our new jewel of land, 70 acres with 1000 feet of waterfront on the lake… they were less than enthused. The staff saw the massive amount of work ahead, I saw the safety net we were looking for.

There was no water treatment system, most of the bathrooms were non-functioning, there was no recognizable beach front, no decks on cabins, most of the shingles were rotting away on all of the buildings, we had no ropes course, no climbing wall, the kitchen was condemned and the dining hall had carpet with black mould. There was even a small room above the dining hall that was boarded up with no access… very creepy.

Over the next few years, I sunk more than half-a-million into Pigeon Lake. Our first year we lost more than $250,000. Truth is, it lost money every year. I remember nights being up, alone, with my calculator, spread sheet open and pages and pages of numbers that were all negative. I kept saying next year, we will break even. We never did.

In all forms of measurement. I failed. In total, the losses were more than $2,000,000 (that’s two million).

But, I also succeeded. As I always preach to anyone who will listen, there is NO failure if something is learned. I am proud of Pigeon Lake. The staff that ran it over the years. I am emotional about it leaving the YLCC family.

This is where Shannon Michelle and Iain Martin came together as a couple and got engaged. Where Shannon fulfilled her dream of becoming a camp director. It’s where Kaila Muzzin proved she could run a camp. Well. Pigeon Lake is where I got to work side by side with Richard Clark and fix so many of those problems and learn with him. He believed in Pigeon Lake. It’s where Ian Tyson learned he could cook for 100 people and do it well. Where I met Therese and Karen. It’s the place that Em Jones learned about what being a manager of people was all about. It’s where more than 10,000 youth had a camp experience, fell in-love with nature and leadership. Realized they could do MORE. It’s the place that Veg Camp began. It’s where I held my “Last Supper” for my closest friends. It’s also where Dave Tucker and Gillian met! So many memories!

Most importantly, it’s where Christine McNally and Caomhan McNally got married and began their life together as a married couple. Where love was recognized under the “Story Book” tree and their fairy tale began.

There are dozens of stories of camp staffers that became friends and campers became YLCCers. There are Gary stories and Geoff Grimmett adventures I will never know. More than I can mention and many more I have no clue about. It was a place of magic, of hope, of love and leadership.

Thank you Pigeon Lake! May your next adventure be as interesting as your last. I know that the new owners are inheriting a place that is in much better shape than it was in 2008. I also know that the buildings, the fields and the trees are full of true love.

To Dave Ornj Graham and every staff member, family member (my step-dad painted 2/3 of the buildings) and camper that helped make that chapter SO rich. Thank you.

Oh by the way, that developer in Orillia didn’t ever bulldoze the buildings. He went bankrupt and the bank sold me the camp through receivership. Less than a year after I bought Pigeon. That’s how I ended up owning two camps.

YLCC Orillia (Oro-Medonte) now has the resources to continue to grow and become even better for the foreseeable future.

Oh my adventures will make a good book. One day.

  • Student Conferences

    We brought 40 students, mostly juniors, and the layout of the conference space and dorm space made our staff feel comfortable with supervision. The college also made it super easy for meals - everything was in the same complex. I HIGHLY recommend trying out this conference for those schools who haven’t yet. Top notch leadership experience!

    ~Bob Kline - Teacher - Huron Heights Secondary School, Kitchener, ON
  • Student Conferences

    Thanks so much for an amazing conference. We’re already looking forward to EOSLC 2018!

    ~Riley McMullen - Tagwi Secondary School - Avonmore, ON
  • Student Conferences

    I want to thank you for giving my students the opportunity to attend EOSLC!! On the drive home, they were discussing how wonderful the speakers were, and the spirit leaders, and the venue, and the whole experience!!!

    I know they have taken with them new insight as to what it means to be a leader! I thank you for that! You must be so proud to have so much positive influence on the youth of tomorrow.

    Thank you, thank you!!

    ~Jennifer Neville -VALOUR SCHOOL - Petawawa
  • Training Centres

    We had such a great time! Your camp is aMazing. The students loved it, and did things they never thought they would have! The slide show at the end was the cherry on top!!!

    ~Amanda - Teacher - Huron Heights Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    Students were very engaged, enthusiastic and excited. Stu is hilarious…seriously. “Humour is never a bad thing” said one student.

    ~Annalisa Varano - Vice Principal - St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    They say a great presenter “leaves them wanting more”. Well, we loved your presentation and the entire team asked me when you will be back! You are truly STUpendous!

    ~Nancy Klensch - Founder of Summit Kids
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu is an energetic, entertaining and dynamic presenter. He captures is audiences’ attention and keeps the room engaged for the entire presentation! His stories in his presentation captures everyone at different points, even the teachers!

    ~Sara Meaney - Cobourg Collegiate Institute
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu was great! Staff and students felt it really broke the anxiety in the building and we even got cupcakes today from one of the students.

    ~Carrie Rowlandson - William Aberhart High School, Calgary Alberta
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu was fantastic. There is nothing better than seeing 600 adolescents laughing their heads off. He delivers a terrific message and has the entire audience engaged, thinking, listening and most importantly laughing within seconds, and he keeps it going for over an hour. Thanks again on behalf of the Shores!!

    ~Doug Woods - Vice Principal, Nantyr Shores Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu’s speech did exactly what I hoped it would do when I tried to bring him in: it brought the school together for a good laugh while empowering the student body to be the change they wish to see in their classroom. I feel he hit this goal perfectly.

    ~Steven Fotheringham - Oakville Trafalgar High School
  • Stu Speaks

    I really liked how the speech really just seemed like Stu was telling us funny stories, but he always related it back to the overall message. It didn’t sound like a speech at all, it was as if he was just talking to the crowd. I would say that he is excellent in connecting with the audience and keeping them entertained. There was not a two minute period in Stu’s speech were nobody was laughing. He kept us amused throughout the entire presentation. I thought he was perfect.

    ~James Palloto
  • Stu Speaks

    I would highly recommend Stu, his engaging personality was a real hook for the students and his messages were ones that many of them could identify with. The humour was great and the students shared that they enjoyed the presentation.

    ~Teresa Fowler - W.H. Croxford High School, Airdrie, Alberta
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu is personable. Students are willing to listen to him. They enjoy listening to him. He has a message, but he is also entertaining. He is fun to listen to and students don’t feel talked down to or preached at.

    ~Tanya Lacey - McKinnon Park Secondary School, Caledonia, ON
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC has played a pivotal role in the growth and development of our Student Activities Council leadership group over the 10 years we have been attending. The chance to get away together, bond as a group, meet other awesome leaders and advisors from across the province, and be challenged by some of the best speakers in the world has made a huge impact on the enthusiasm and effectiveness of our leadership program.”

    ~Jeff Gerber, Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, Baden, Ontario
  • Training Centres

    “Just want to thank the Pigeon Lake YLCC staff for another wonderful experience. My Grade 7 class just returned from their overnight with smiles on their faces and singing ‘pizza man’. I have taken a group for a number of years now and I never tire of the experience. YOU rock!”

  • Youth Camps

    “Thank you Stu and Ornj and the AMAZING counsellors and staff for making the past two weeks amazing for Noah. He sobbed when we left, and can’t wait to return. He showed me his journal and we compared it to last year’s - what a difference a year makes.”

  • Youth Camps

    “Nothing makes my heart sing more, than to see my kids having the most amazing life experiences together. YLCC makes this happen every year. Pure Gold. ‘Thank You’ can’t really cover it …”

  • Youth Camps

    “Thank you for the best summer I have experienced to date. YLCC taught me how to embrace my values and to express opinions. The entire camp and amazing staff believed in me achieving any goal I were to set. “

  • Student Conferences

    OSLC to me is family, period.

    ~Hayley Press
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC showed me through the people I met what it was to be a better leader by how you act and what you do.

    ~Ben Arnold
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC is an experience where you can literally go and see 1000’s of other teens that have the same desire as you to lead and make a change in the world. The energy is electric, the movement is massive and the memories are completely unforgettable. The experience is one you fully cant understand without going there, there is an indescribable and irreplacable feeling that is created there, and it sticks even after you leave.

    ~Brittany Roney
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC changed my life. I have never felt so alive in my entire life. I met so many people who I will be life long friends with. The energy is amazing and the inspiration is indescribable.
    If there was one memory I could remember it would be OSLC.

    ~Maddison F
  • Student Conferences

    I don’t even know how to begin or where to start telling you how amazing OSLC was and how amazing and incredible you are! This event was truly life changing for me and my council, thank you so much for this, for OSLC and for you. You are truly an inspiration and have shown me so much and have lit a fire inside me.

    ~Joshua McCallum, Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, Strathroy, Ontario
  • Student Conferences

    I have been bringing students to the Ontario Student Leadership Conference for over 10 years. Our students clamour for a spot at the conference because they have heard about it and want to be a part of it. They always come back from the conference excited and motivated to make positive changes in our school and community. The speakers are always world class and the workshops inspire and educate the students, I look forward to being part of this incredible conference for years to come, keep up the great work.

    ~Kyle Pope, Oakville Traflagar High School
  • Student Conferences

    This conference consistently fosters, in the students who attend, a sense of community in leadership that I’ve yet to see generated to this degree anywhere else. Former students have told me, years later, that the OSLC was the highlight of their high school experience. I believe them.

    ~Ross Thomson, Craig Kielburger Secondary School, Milton, Ontario
  • Student Conferences

    I have been attending OSLC a number of years with our Students’ Council Executive. There is no other opportunity that I am able to offer my students that leads to such enthusiasm and ideas for the school year. Many of my students have worked as Spirit Leaders at the conference, and more than once students have told me how OSLC has changed their life. On top of that, OSLC is one of the very few conferences that allow for PD for staff members who work in student leadership. More than once I have had my own commitment to student leadership refreshed through workshops at OSLC.

    ~Tanya Lacey, McKinnon Park Secondary School, Caledonia, Ontario
  • Stu Speaks

    I was at the OCA conference on May 6th, and I just wanted to thank you on being such a wicked keynote… you definitely put me back in the camp mindset and reminded me of what’s truly important about the up-coming summer. Once again, a job very well done.

    ~Emily Summers
  • Stu Speaks

    The students really enjoyed Stu’s humour and low-key but critical message about getting involved and getting the most out of their High School experience. I would recommend Stu as a speaker who relates well to students, is funny, and gets the message out without preaching.

    Thank you,

    ~Lynn Toye