Bark Lake Leadership Camp
January 21, 2024
Ontario Camp Leadership Centre, Bark Lake
By Guy Scott
Halfway between Irondale and Gooderham lies Bark Lake. The actual lake is several miles north of #503. In the era of the lumber barons, Mossom Boyd lumbered extensively in Snowdon and Glamorgan Townships. He had a large depot on the south shore of Bark Lake and spent quite a few years logging in the area. Saw logs were floated down Bark Creek to the Irondale River. Supplies were cadged in by a trail from the Monck Road (now 503). To supply the lumber shanties in the area, several pioneers located along Bark Lake. William Spencely was listed on the 1881 census as living at the Bark Lake depot. His son-in-law Sampson Wright followed by 1901.
The road was very primitive. It was originally called a “cow-splat path” and later upgraded to an ox trail. The Wright family were isolated over the winter. One winter, the children caught black diphtheria, a horrible virus that caused the throat to swell shut and asphyxiation to follow. Being highly contagious, quarantines were imposed on the Wright family. Before it was over, 5 small children died at Bark Lake. They were buried onsite, but later moved to Gooderham cemetery. The heart broken family abandoned the farm.
The next occupant was a hunt camp gang who occupied the old depot site until the 1940s. After World War II, the Government of Ontario became interested in outdoor education for school children who were growing up in an urban setting. Somebody remembered the Bark Lake site and an exploratory expedition in 1947 was impressed with the site’s potential. The hunt camp was purchased, a reserve of 4,300 acres of crown land created for the camp and the road upgraded by 1948. Dallyn Pickens, a local man, was hired to be maintenance chief. Forty campers were accommodated in the summer of 1948.
Throughout the 1950s, the facilities were steadily improved. The Department of Education operated the original camp. The counsellors were teachers who had an interest in outdoor activities such as swimming, canoeing, woodcraft, camping, first aid and outdoor crafts. The campers were students selected from schools around the province who were trained in leadership. They were housed in tents which slept 5-7 boys. The students arrived by train (the good old IB&O) and got off at Maxwell’s Crossing, the nearest flag stop. One year, the railway was on strike and the campers were delivered back to Toronto riding on benches in the back of an army truck. Image that today!
Over the years, Bark Lake Leadership Camp pinballed between various government ministries, but kept on expanding and upgrading. It provided employment for many local residents, especially in the maintenance and kitchen sectors. Leon Wright of Kinmount was the manager for several years. Thousands of school age children swam in the waters of Bark Lake and enjoyed the outdoor experience. The ‘spots’ at Bark Lake were doled out by various government agencies and were highly prized. Counselors from all over Canada also enjoyed the experiences of a summer at Bark Lake.
By the 1990s, government cut backs began to hobble such programs as leadership camps. After several years of bickering, it was announced in 1993 that the Bark Lake Leadership Camp would be closed. The site was well maintained and had value as a summer camp. It was put up for sale, hoping for a private sector group to continue the camp. It was purchased by a private organization, who continued the original goal of providing outdoor experiences and education to youth from Canada and around the world.