Frequently Asked Questions
Why don't you offer two-week sessions to boys who are older than 9?
Our goal is to create a “home away from home” for every boy. A four-week camp stay is essential to derive the full benefits of camp and the Ponacka experience. In the 1980s we introduced two-week periods for 8-9 year-olds to assist younger boys in making the transition to camp life.
A four-week session enables a boy to:
- Settle in, which may take up to a week before he feels truly comfortable with the routines, his group, the counsellors and how camp runs.
- Go on a multi-day canoe trip and also have time to complete his awards at camp.
- Maximize his opportunities for skill development – especially at swimming, canoeing, and sailing where he can earn Provincial and National certifications.
- Try all the activities camp has to offer (over 20) and earn awards at many of them.
- Develop lasting friendships. Our alumni tell us their best and most enduring friendships were forged at camp. These friendships are the greatest legacy of summer camp.
- Develop self-reliance, resiliency and independence. Whether conquering a fear of heights on the aerial ropes course, cooking dinner in the pouring rain on canoe trip, or simply learning to live in harmony with other boys in his tent or cabin, the campers are challenged in ways that foster the character, and skills needed for a rich future.
- Camp is an ideal place to learn many of the skills needed to work in the 21st century – teamwork, initiative, compassion, empathy, communication, self discipline – packaged in an atmosphere of fun and laughter. A four-week stay solidifies the gains that every boy makes.
Why is Ponacka an all-boys camp?
Back in the 1940s when Camp Ponacka was founded, co-ed camps were quite rare. Ponacka’s founding director Bruno Morawetz set out to provide a small group of boys with a traditional camp experience in a wilderness setting, where they could gain new skills and develop themselves without the distraction that comes from having girls present. Today, while there are still no female campers at Ponacka, we have a number of women on staff who teach particular activities such as horseback riding and crafts, and who support the camp operation in many ways.
My favourite thing about a boys-only camp vs. a co-ed camp is that you can truly be yourself. One of the greatest things about camp is learning and embracing who you really are as a person; not the person your parents or city friends want you to be. I think introducing girls into that equation would make ‘finding yourself’ that much harder. Boys act very differently around girls than they do around other boys – while forming relationships with both genders is important, my parents saw being able to form relationships with other boys as a stepping stone to forming relationships in general. My favourite thing about a boys-only camp (and Ponacka) is that boys can be boys. We can play games with a bit of rough-housing. We can put ourselves ‘out there’ – whether through singing a song at Talent Show or performing in the Big Show. The reason you see so many amazing staff come out of camps like Ponacka is because they grew up in that environment; they learned to work with others, be leaders and always give 100%.
— Tyler Ray, Ponacka staff member 2010-15
A major difference is it feels less “home-like” at a co-ed camp. The reason for this is the girls and boys are generally segregated. I know all the faces of the people at my camp and can put a name on almost every face because I see them every day in different activities and events around camp. Because I know everyone at camp, a brotherly bond is created and the older boys take on the role of older brother to the younger boys. I prefer a boys-only camp because it gives me the freedom to truly express who I am. When I’m around girls I have to give off a certain image but in an all-boys environment I have the freedom to be who I want to be. In all-boys camps self-consciousness is far less common because how a person looks does not matter and has no effect on who they are. The difference in camps is bigger when you are in your teenage years. When I went to a co-ed camp I found myself looking in the mirror ten times more then I would if I were at a boys camp. The difference to young boys is that they are immersed in the culture of being a boy and they can be themselves and not have to put up a shield to change themselves into a more accepted person in their interactions with other people.”
— Leo, 15 year-old July camper at Ponacka, Staff member 2013-2014
How well-prepared are your counselling staff?
All Ponacka counsellors were campers at Ponacka, the majority having started camp at the age of 8! Because of this, the average number of years a current counsellor has been at Ponacka is nine. They have all participated in the month long counsellor in training program and are trained to teach specific activities. Each counsellor holds either Bronze Cross or National Lifeguard Service certification, along with Standard First Aid. Learn more about our staff.
Where does my son sleep?
The six youngest groups sleep in cabins. In the ten older groups, there are five boys and one counsellor in each tent and two tents make up a group. There is no electricity in these cabins or tents. The boys unpack their belongings onto shelving upon arrival, and store their luggage on racks under the cabin or tent.
What do you serve at meals and how do you manage picky eaters?
The boys eat with their cabin/tent group and their two counsellors and Counsellor in Training. The meals are served “family style”.
A typical breakfast always includes a selection of cold cereals, hot porridge, hot chocolate, juice and fresh fruit. These are followed by “second course” – scrambled eggs and toast, pancakes, muffins and cheese, BLTs, French toast, and more. On Sundays, the boys wake up to the smell of delicious homemade cinnamon buns.
For lunch and dinner, the menu includes meatball subs, chicken fajitas, homemade mac-and-cheese, soup and make-your-own sub sandwiches, chicken burgers, grilled cheese, spaghetti, lasagna, and more. Every Friday night the boys enjoy pizza with Caesar salad and ice cream. On Saturdays, we have an outdoor barbecue with hamburgers, hotdogs, fresh vegetables and fruit.
We encourage each boy to try a small (“no thank you”) helping, even if he says he dislikes a particular food. The boys come to each meal hungry because they have been active and busy, and eating together they can observe their friends enjoying foods they might have been reticent to try. We find that gentle persuasion, hunger and good modelling enables the vast majority of boys to return home with an increased range of foods they like.
Please note: Ponacka has peanut butter available, with procedures in place to ensure that a boy with peanut allergies stays safe.
What are the camp's safety procedures and facilities?
All counselors have current Standard First Aid certification and are trained in water search-and-rescue, as well as fire-fighting, during our week long pre-camp. Ponacka has three fire-pumps placed throughout the camp as well as fire extinguishers in all buildings. No flammable materials are allowed in camper or staff sleeping quarters.
We maintain a strict lifeguarding program whenever the campers are in the water. Staff have a minimum of Bronze Cross and many have their National Life Guard Service. Campers are required to swim with a buddy for any free swim.
The camp has a physician in residence 24 hours a day throughout the 8 weeks the campers are in camp. The Bancroft hospital is a 25 minute drive from camp. All “out of camp” excursions take first-aid kits.
What medical facilities exist at Ponacka?
A medical doctor is always in residence at camp (often he/she is a former Ponackian or Ponacka parent). The doctor and his/her family live in the camp infirmary, centrally located in camp, and equipped with three beds and a well-stocked medicine cabinet. In case of emergency, the nearest hospital is about a half-hour’s drive away in Bancroft.
On occasion, my son wets his bed. How do you prevent the embarrassment this situation can cause?
Bed-wetting (enuresis) is not uncommon, including at camp. If parents anticipate it occurring, we suggest sending two sleeping bags. After the boys leave for breakfast, one counselor stays behind to conduct a bed check. Any wet sleeping bags are discreetly taken to the laundry hut for immediate washing and the replacement sleeping bag put out on the bed. Some boys choose to wear pull-ups that can be discreetly disposed of and replaced each morning by the counsellor. Others use the DDAVP medication that works well for many boys. The counsellors will also wake up a camper later in the evening, which can help to prevent a wet bed. No teasing is permitted – due to the measures described, others in the group are usually unaware of the situation.
Is it normal for boys to feel homesick?
Many boys experience some degree of homesickness in their first, and sometimes second year at camp. Anne and Don, the counsellors and other staff are well-trained to quickly identify the signs of homesickness and deal with each boy’s situation in an appropriately caring and thoughtful manner. Most cases of homesickness take care of themselves within a day or two after the boy has adjusted to camp life.
When can we visit our son?
Parents of four-week campers are encouraged to visit on the middle weekend of the session. We suggest bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of our picnic tables located throughout camp. Parents are encouraged to take a tour of the camp with their son, and bring bathing suits for a swim at the beach or go for a paddle. The ideal visit is three to four hours. If parents wish to visit at another time, it is best to contact camp to make sure their son is not out on excursion.
How will I know how my son is doing at camp?
Within a few days of the start of camp, one of his counsellors will write a hand-written letter to inform parents or guardians of the boy’s progress. This letter is then scanned to speed its arrival time! We encourage the boys to write letters home regularly. We discourage campers from phoning home. If parents have concerns we encourage them to call camp or send an email message. We promise to respond quickly!