Intensive research has revealed the important role that camping plays in the educative process of a child, possibly as important as school. In the Jewish world, the role of a summer camp experience is amplified as it is instrumental in establishing the stages of Jewish identity, especially for those children not receiving a formal Jewish education.
In Eastern Canada, B’nai Brith had long recognized the impact of a camp experience on the social, cultural, and intellectual development children and as a result was in the forefront of the community in the development of camping services.
Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal, established in 1921, has remained loyal to its founding charter of providing a Jewish camping experience to the children of our community. Although the nature of camping has changed what has remained constant at Camp B’naiBrith of Montreal, are the principles of allowing children to develop self-esteem, friendships, and memories that are cherished for life.
In 1920, Mount Royal Lodge undertook a special project to provide a summer holiday for underprivileged Jewish boys less than 14 years of age. Little did they know they would be creating an institution that would become a pillar in the Jewish community. A decision was made at the time that no fees were to be assessed, and only children whose parents could not afford to pay for camping services would be accepted.
The first campsite was located on a farm, loaned to us gratis, and situated about 40 miles from Montreal. A well-rounded program was put into effect. The counselors and directors were student volunteers from McGill University. Old army tents were used as sleeping quarters; other facilities were equally primiti ve. It is a tribute to the countless volunteers who have labored over the years to create one of the most beautiful, modern, and well-equipped camps in North America. In its infancy, eighty campers were accommodated in four two-week periods. Until 1929, the camp changed sites almost every year. In 1929, however, a property was acquired at our present site, Lantier, about 100 kilometers north of Montreal. The first phase of the campsite covered an area of 205 acres of pristine land bisected by a magnificent lake.
Following the acquisition of this property, a legal entity was established in May 1929, Camp B’nai Brith was incorporated under a Quebec charter. From 1921 until 1943, all capital and operating costs were financed by Mount Royal Lodge, thus developing a culture of fundraising within the organization that remains a vital component of its operation to this day. In 1943, Camp B’nai Brith became a constituent agency of the Combined Jewish Appeal (Federation CJA) and began to receive financial assistance with its operating costs from the community-wide campaign.
B’nai Brith continued to provide the funds for all capital expenditures, a practice that Camp B’ nai Brith has carried forward to the present day, as well as the balance of operating costs. With the introduction of the Governors Ball (which has become the Gift of Summer Gala) camp started to receive a steady source of capital funds which were used to expand and modernize the camp.
From 1954 to 1964, under the leadership of individuals such as Henry Blatt, and Sydney Maislin (both past presidents of CBB), the camp mushroomed to accommodate over 1000 boys and girls in three, three-week sessions. Those eligible for scholarships were given priority and over 90% of the campers paid $1 to $ 5 per week, depending on the family finances.
Camp B’nai Brith adopted a cutting edge philosophy during this period by investing in modern structures, creating a village concept according to gender and age, as well as investing in creative, competitive programs. This fostered a spirit of co-operation as well as a sense of achievement amongst staff and campers.
In the summer of 1962, the CIT (now SIT) leadership program was established for 16-year-old co-ed campers. The aim was to train campers to become future staff members.
CBB expanded its Israeli program in 1983 when it began to accommodate children of Israeli Veterans of War (IVOW) as guest campers. The boys and girls are 12 and 13 years of age, with many boys celebrating their Bar Mitzvoth at camp.
In 1992, in answer to a call from our community, a program for children with special needs was introduced. It was a success from the get-go. CBB truly reaches the entire spectrum of our community from children to seniors.
After a lengthy building process, the Retreat Centre was completed in 1993. It now housed living quarters, a fully equipped kitchen and dining room, several multi-purpose rooms including a synagogue, conference rooms, and program areas.
In 1996, CBB introduced their “Shorashim SIT Program”, where SITs embarked on a leadership mission to Israel. They had a great time and brought new and exciting ideas back to camp the following summer as staff.
In 2010, CBB celebrated its 90th anniversary! It marked an incredibly important milestone in our rich history. While remaining in line with our foundations, Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal continues to grow and shift with the times, facilitating inclusion, intentionality, and irreplaceable summer camp experience for children of all ages and from all backgrounds. As we approach our very own centennial celebration, Camp B’nai Brith of Montreal continues to innovate and transform our programming, staff train ing, and camper supervision, in order to provide the best possible informal Jewish education that we can.