Skip to content

News Article: “Campfire harmony lost amid bitter Girl Guides real estate selloff in Ontario”

By , Staff National Reporter
The Globe and Mail
December 28, 2018

byerswood - isabella

Eleven-year-old Girl Guide Isabella Cowan-Rivera of Windsor, Ont., donated her birthday money and fundraised $1,000 in a bid to help Camp Bryerswood. The camp’s fate is being negotiated between local volunteers and the Ontario Council of the Girl Guides of Canada, who want to close and sell their camps because of financial constraints.

At Kingston’s Camp Carruthers and at Pipers Hill, near Tottenham, the canoes and other gear have been removed so that the grounds can be ready to be sold. And by the end of the year, the Rolling Hills Area Camp is set to close.

It is the end of an era for Ontario’s more than 30,000 Girl Guides, their parents and volunteers – but instead of generating happy memories, it underlines years of bitter litigation over the fate of the camps and the way the organization is run.

The Guides’ Ontario Council has already put 16 camps on the block and a court decision in October gave it the green light to get rid of 14 of the remaining 17 camps. The children will now go to rented camp sites. The organization’s Ontario commissioner, Susan Birnie, called the move “an exciting new chapter in delivering the best Guiding outdoor experience.”

The sales began after a major shakeup the Ontario charity launched a decade ago. It was supposed to modernize the Guides, but it brought judicial turmoil and bad blood to an organization usually associated with cookies and campfires.

The camps were very dear to generations who attended, and some Guiding volunteers launched court bids to stop the sale of their local camps. Others tried to create business plans to preserve the facilities.

For some, the grief went deep. In Barrie, Sue Jessup, who was involved for more than 30 years with the Guides, refuses to buy their cookies now, after the council sued her and 17 others for refusing to turn over money they had raised for the local camp.

Dave Shepherd, also a defendant in that case, was so upset that he portrayed the Guides in a novel he published as an organization that squandered the passion of its volunteers. “This was a travesty. It need not have happened,” Mr. Shepherd said in an interview.

The controversy began in 2007, when the Ontario Guides embarked on an overhaul called the Transformation.

Between 2000 and 2007, membership had dropped from 71,500 to less than 40,000. And the organization’s multitiered governance structure, with local districts, divisions and areas, meant that “it took months to get anything done,” Ms. Birnie said in an interview.

The Transformation dissolved the districts, divisions and areas and transferred more than $3.2-million of their funds to the head office. The council also took control of 33 campgrounds that local members managed. Staff in Toronto increased from 26 full-time posts to 98. The payroll tripled, from $1.45-million to $4.5-million.

Less than two years later, the council announced that the camps were a financial drain and 16 had to be sold.


Letters from Ontario Girl Guides urging the organization’s provincial council not to close and sell Camp Tewateno, near Barrie. The letters were entered as exhibits in court proceedings to decide the future of the camp.


Local volunteers went to court to oppose the planned closings of Camp Ashwene in the Temiskaming district; Camp Caritou near North Bay; Camp Aneesh near Owen Sound; and Camp Klahanie, near Goderich.

Court filings detail the anger and resentment in small communities over the loss of facilities to which people had donated labour and money for decades. They said the camps’ proximity made them safer and more convenient for the children than commercial campgrounds.

The council, which has run a deficit for nine of the past 12 years, said the camps were underused and costly to maintain. “Property ownership was financially and administratively untenable,” it said in a court factum.

The sales made some happy. Tech millionaire Ted Livingston, who launched the chat app Kik, bought Camp Keewaydin, also near Goderich, and turned it into a country getaway. “We saw the property and were like, `This is amazing,’ ” he said in an interview.


The Guides’ Ontario Council has already put 16 camps on the block and a court decision in October gave it the green light to get rid of 14 of the remaining 17 camps. The children will now go to rented camp sites.

The closing of the camps did not play as well with the volunteers. Patricia Evans, whose mother’s donation helped set up Camp Aneesh, near Owen Sound, said in a letter filed in a court case over the planned sale that the council was estranged from the grassroots, issuing directives through conference calls rather than having debates.

“We felt betrayed. We felt very betrayed,” Lori Butterfield, a paramedic who volunteered for 30 years at Camp Caritou, said in an interview.

Ms. Butterfield and other volunteers from the North Bay area formed a group called Friends of Camp Caritou and retained a lawyer, Clemens Eggert. He wrote to the council, arguing that the Guides had to suspend the sale of the camp. “The tone and substance of your correspondence lacks civility,” Valerie Dyer, a lawyer for the council, replied in January, 2010.

She warned Friends of Camp Caritou to stay away from the facility. “The owner has not given your clients or anyone else permission to use the camp property. If they do, they will be trespassing.”

In November, 2010, assessors for the council were to visit Camp Caritou, and local Guides and their parents planned a protest. However, the visitors showed up earlier and changed the locks, Ms. Butterfield said. The children and their parents gathered outside the camp anyway before local media.

Ms. Birnie said the council was unfairly painted as heartless. “It’s not a civil tone to take your young five-year-old daughter in front of a TV camera and have her crying at the chain link fence,” she said.

Friends of Camp Caritou launched a court claim, arguing that the Guides could not dispose of the property because the organization only held it in trust. In a statement of defence, the council denied it was in breach of trust and said it would seek damages from the local group for hampering the sale.

In the case of Camp Tewateno, near Barrie, volunteers would not release $250,000 they had collected, saying it was raised specifically to build a new lodge at the camp. They did not want the council to put the money in a general account because donors such as local grocer Al Zaba wanted the funds used locally.

In September, 2011, the council suspended 18 Tewateno volunteers and sued them for failing to hand over the $250,000. “Each of the defendants has had the ability to extricate himself or herself from the ongoing conspiracy … they have each failed to do so,” the statement of claim said.

Mr. Shepherd, who was among those sued, said his only role in the group was helping design a footpath at the camp. A retired teacher, he said he lived for five years with the fear that the legal costs would force him to sell his house. “It was a financial strain, and most importantly, it was an emotional strain.”

Most of the defendants were of retirement age, according to their statement of defence, although Ms. Jessup, her daughter Kristen, a student who was helping design a playground at the camp, and husband, Stan, were also among the group.

Mr. Jessup, a police officer, said his role was clearing the bush at the site. Ms. Jessup, a nurse, said she had to postpone her retirement by two years to make sure she could pay the legal costs.

The 18 said in a court paper that “they lost any faith in the honesty and integrity of the plaintiff” and described the lawsuit as “bullying tactics.”

The council said the defendants had been given the opportunity to remove themselves from the group accused of withholding the funds. “We certainly didn’t bear any ill will,” Ms. Birnie said.

In June, 2016, a judge ordered that the money be returned to the donors. The volunteers were stuck with legal bills of more than $53,000.

Five months later, the provincial watchdog for charitable properties entered the picture in the case of another camp. The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee applied to the court, arguing that Camp Aneesh was held in trust and therefore the council could not sell it without judicial approval.

Camp Aneesh had already been sold, and by then court challenges for the first group of camps being sold had either been dismissed or settled.


Despite the first wave of camp sales, the council was still running a deficit and wanted to divest the remaining facilities. This time, it sought court authorization, pledged to place the proceeds in a dedicated fund, made an effort to communicate with volunteers and gave them the opportunity to present business plans to keep their local camps, Ms. Birnie said. “We learned a lot of lessons,” she added.

The court approved the sale of 14 of the remaining 17 camps. Camp Tekahionwake, north of Brantford, was kept because its volunteers’ business plan was accepted. The futures of Camp Bryerswood, near Windsor, and Camp Tewateno are to be decided after a review of business plans from their supporters.

Volunteers at Bryerswood and Tewateno did not want to comment. However, in a court affidavit, Joyce Goodenough of Camp Tewateno said the council did not maintain the facility properly. There was damage from mould and moss, mice and squirrels invaded the buildings, stoves were rusting, she said. She added that the council did not charge enough when renting the camp out to other users to cover expenses.

In Windsor this past summer, Isabella Cowan-Rivera, 11, donated her $25 birthday money to start a fundraising drive to help save Bryerswood.

Her efforts have raised $1,000 so far, and she plans to hold a yard next spring. “It’s a great place. I have many great memories,” she said in an interview. “It means a lot to me and I would be upset if I lost it.”

With a report from Shane Dingman.


Friends of Camp Caritou – Fundraiser Pasta Dinner March 2, 2019

We’d love to see you!
Friends of Camp Caritou – Fundraiser Pasta Dinner
Saturday March 2nd, 2019
Trinity United Church – Corner of McIntrye and Ferguson St – North Bay
5pm – 7 pm
$10 adults,  $5 children
Silent Auction
screen shot 2019-01-21 at 12.47.39 pm

Camp Caritou Fundraiser – Pasta Dinner Feb 2, 2019

Come join us!
Camp Caritou Fundraiser Pasta Dinner
Saturday February 2nd, 2019
Bonfield Parish Hall
5pm – 7 pm
$10 adults, $5 children
featuring “The Rutherglen Jammers”
Silent Auction, 50-50 draw
screen shot 2019-01-21 at 12.52.17 pm

Camp Caritou Open House Sat Sept 8, 2018

Open-House half-page

Everyone is invited to an Open House at Camp Caritou, Saturday September 8, 2018! Drop in any time between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. There will be a BBQ and corn roast, guided hikes, games and activities. Please join us at Camp Caritou, 63 Development Road, Bonfield, Ontario.

Visit our website at or email for more information.

Camp Caritou’s website

Camp Caritou is now accepting bookings!

Visit the webpage at

Camp Caritou – Pasta Dinner & AGM 2018

Dear Friends,

Please mark your calendar to join us at our Pasta Dinner on March 3rd and our Annual General Meeting on March 22nd. 

It seems that for many years we have invited our members and supporters to our Annual General Meeting with a promise of progress and things to come. This year we have accomplished our goal and are happy to now be moving forward in our new role as joint owners of Camp Caritou, with the Bonfield and District Lions Club. The camp will now operate as a charitable purpose trust and we are thrilled to have kids camping there again. Stay tuned for more information about an open house in the spring.

If you have not yet renewed your membership with the Friends of Camp Caritou, I have attached an application for your convenience. Your membership fee helps us to get the camp back in order and to help us get kids, and others, out camping.

Pasta Dinner – Supported by the Ferris Lions Club

Saturday March 3, 2018
5:00 to 7:00 pm
$10.00 for Adults, $5.00 for Children
Trinity United Church (Corner of McIntyre and Ferguson)
North Bay
Tickets available at the door or from any board member or by calling 705-476-4043
Pasta Dinner poster (pdf)

Friends of Camp Caritou Inc. – Annual General Meeting

Thursday March 22, 2018
7:00 pm
Trinity United Church (Corner of McIntyre and Ferguson)
North Bay
Membership Application (pdf)

Other upcoming fundraising events

May 5, 2018 – Astorville Yard Sale
June 2, 2018 – Bonfield Yard Sale
June 9, 2018 – Plant Sale with the Ferris Lions Club Yard Sale

We are very appreciative of all the support we have received. We welcome support of all kinds. We welcome financial donations, and if you are interested in taking a more active role with the Friends of Camp Caritou, if you have a service or skill to offer, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you for your continued support.

Cindy Brownlee and the board of directors and members of the Friends of Camp Caritou

Lots of work to do after Camp Caritou returned to local groups

On Saturday, September 23, 2017 – 10am to 2pm at Camp Caritou we will unlock the gates and welcome the media and our friends and supporters to come out to the camp. Camp Caritou is located at 63 Development Road in Bonfield. (Directions to the camp are at the end of this article.)

Lots of work to do after Camp Caritou returned to local groups

NORTH BAY (September 20, 2017) – The Friends of Camp Caritou and the Bonfield and District Lions Club are very pleased to be working together to get Camp Caritou open as soon as a possible. We are looking forward to seeing children and youth, and their leaders all learning and laughing together and making memories like generations of young people have done in the past.

“I can recall one of the last times I took a group of Girl Guides camping at Camp Caritou. I can still see the smiles on these young girls faces when the three of them, after much discussion, and a few wrong moves managed to successfully pitched their tent…all on their own. They were so proud of themselves. I can hardly wait to see this sort of confidence, team building and fun happen at Camp Caritou again.” Cindy Brownlee

The camp was closed in December of 2009 and has not been used since then. We have work to do. We will need to raise some funds and have work parties to get the camp cleaned up and back in shape before we can begin renting the facilities to local Guides and Scouts and other youth groups, as well as make the space available for rent for non youth related activities.

The camp currently has one winterized building, Algonquin Lodge, that sleeps 30. The furnace, oil tank, water system all need to be brought back to approved working order. A significant amount of cleaning needs to be done both upstairs and down in the lodge before we can consider using it again. Unless we encounter any significant problems or expense we are optimistic that this should not take more than a few months.

The fields used for tenting are a little overgrown. The latrines, picnic tables, picnic shelter and hiking trails will need attention before camping can begin, but there will be camping again in the spring. There will be marshmallows and songs around the campfire again.

An Inventory and inspection of equipment and furnishings in the lodge, as well as the camping equipment and supplies will need to be completed. We can then determine how much will need restore or will need to be replaced, but the Friends of Camp Caritou and the Bonfield and District Lions Club will take it one step at a time, with the support of our friends and our community we can accomplish anything.

The camp was closed in 2009 and many things have happened between then and now. We certainly have many people to thank who have supported us all along the way. Don Wallace of Wallace and Klein partners in law for his many years of tireless and dedicated work. We also need to thank other members of his legal team including Melissa Sagat, Jack Wallace, Debbie, and Cathy.

The Bonfield and District Lions Club for their belief in The Friends Of Camp Caritou and the willingness to commit to making this endeavour a success. We are looking forward to a long and successful partnership.

The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for the assistance in working out this settlement.

Elsa and Dick Tafel who have been Camp Caritou supports since 1960 and were instrumental in initiating this effort to get the camp back.

To our current and former board of directors for the Friends of Camp Caritou; Lori Butterfield, Lori Hubbert, Linda Rioux, Linda Knight, Sharon Patrois, Margo Oleskiw, Thelma Blackburn, Angela Ringuette, Estelle Cameron, Elizabeth Hendren-Roberge, Cindy Brownlee, Gayle Denston, Elsa Tafel, Dorothy Burns, Connie Marcil.

The Ferris Lions Club for their years of support with out fundraising efforts including pasta dinners, plant and yard sales.

To the many members of the local Guiding community and the North Bay and Area who have supported us by sharing their expertise and through the support of our fundraising, memberships and words of encouragement. The list of people to thank is very long, but special mention to Chantal Pike, Tina Renaud, Mea Pike, Donna Robinson, Marci Becking, Mary Beth Van Trigt, Carol and BJ Szabicot, John Marcil, Clem Eggert, Jeffery Froud, Jo-Anne Groulx, and Trinity United Church.

Thank you
Friends of Camp Caritou

Camp Caritou Map pdf

Camp Caritou saved


Local guides and supporters hold signs outside Camp Caritou in 2011 protesting the sale of their camp by the Girl Guides of Canada Ontario Council. Nugget File Photo


Camp Caritou has been saved.

A long bitter and emotional court case has finally come to an end.

“We have the keys now,” said Cindy Brownlee, spokeswoman for Friends of Camp Caritou.

“It’s a great camp and this is a win for everyone. Camp Caritou belongs to this community. All the time, effort and energy to win this was totally worth it.”

The Friends of Camp Caritou, and the Bonfield and District Lions Club announced that after six years a settlement of the court proceedings involving the future of Camp Caritou has been reached with Girl Guides of Canada.

All parties have come together to resolve this matter in the best interests of all the stakeholders, and the community.

Camp Caritou, located on Lake Nosbonsing, will resume operation in 2017, and will be jointly operated by the Friends of Camp Caritou, and the Bonfield and District Lions Club.

Brownlee said when Camp Caritou resumes operation, it will operate as a charitable purpose trust with the objective of providing camping experiences primarily to the children and youth of the local community and area.

Programs will include nature and environmental programs, camping experiences, leadership skills, arts and crafts and other related activities.

“Camp Caritou will not operate as a Girl Guide Camp, and will not be in any way affiliated with Girl Guides of Canada. However, Girl Guides of Canada is supportive of the operation of the camp by the Friends of Camp Caritou, and the Bonfield and District Lions Club,” Brownlee said.

She said the facility will be used by local Girl Guide units, and other youth groups such as scouts, church groups and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

There will also be access for adults and local organizations to use the facilities at the camp, as well, rentals for weddings and family reunions.

Brownlee said the camp has sat idle for eight years and there is plenty of work that needs to be done before campers can pitch their tent.

“We have to look at the furnace and water system and the ground maintenance needs attention,” she said.

“We will need volunteers and maybe some fundraising.”

The Friends of Camp Caritou group launched legal action in 2011, after Girl Guides of Canada’s board of directors decided in 2009 to close and sell 16 Ontario camps, including Camp Caritou.

The group is comprised of long-serving members and Guiders who wanted to preserve the property for future Girl Guides.

Volunteers held numerous fundraisers, such as pasta dinners, as a way to raise funds.

The camp, a 42-acre parcel of land was founded by Algonquin Division Girl Guides, in 1961. It’s located in Bonfield on the shores of Lake Nosbonsing.

The camp served as the main base for camping and outdoor education.

In the beginning, camping was restricted to warmer months, however there was a need for girls to experience winter camping.

Volunteers came to the rescue by raising money and building shelters.

In 1995, a permanent winterized building was constructed that can hold 30 girls for winter camping.

Girl Guide camp money must be returned: court

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner
Monday, July 18, 2016 4:48:44 EDT PM

More than $240,000 raised for a never-built Girl Guide lodge north of Barrie must be returned to donors, an Ontario court has ruled.

The Superior Court of Justice, in a June 16, 2016 decision, has ordered the money returned to donors, or directed at their discretion, and that a letter be sent advising them of their choices and giving them 90 days from the decision to respond.

“That’s the vindication there, that the donors won,” said Sylvia Dufresne, one of the 19 defendants in a case involving Girl Guides of Canada.

“It’s good for all charities, I think, to pay attention that when money’s raised for something, it had better be used for that,” she said. “I consider that a really important lesson from this case.”

Girl Guides of Canada’s National Office could not be reached for comment Monday by the Examiner.

Camp Tewateno is 100-acres of land along Gill Road, just outside Midhurst, owned by Guides Canada.

The Camp Tewateno development committee raised money for a new lodge there, but fearing the property could be sold, would not turn the funds over to Girl Guides.

A statement of claim filed with the courts accused the group of refusing to account for the money raised, as well as wrongfully retaining possession and control over the funds.

The group said it was rightfully holding onto the money until it received assurances from Girl Guides the money would stay in the community and be used to build a lodge at Camp Tewateno.

Girl Guides of Canada officials said at the time there was never any intention to sell Camp Tewateno.

But Guides Canada launched legal action against members of the Camp Tewateno development committee.

At one point Dufresne separated herself from the other defendants, she said, because a settlement not to her liking was being worked out with Guides Canada – until the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee became involved.

An arm of Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, it can protect the public’s interest in how charities raise and use their money.

“The Public Guardian stepping in is what finally turned the whole thing around,” Dufresne said of the seven-year battle.

The court ordered $19,729 returned to the Barrie Bingo Sponsors Association, as well as $240,205 to those who had made a donation to Camp Tewateno between 1994 and 2009.

‘At the time of donation, you were informed that the money was being raised in order to build a new lodge at Camp Tewateno and develop the camp,’ the letter from Guides Canada reads. ‘However, due to unforeseeable events GGC (Girl Guides Canada) has decided that this lodge will not be built.

‘Instead, these funds will, at your election, be returned to you or be reallocated to other GGC initiatives which will enable the betterment of GGC and its members.’

The donations can be reallocated to subsidize girls from lower-income families so they can attend Girl Guides camps. Or the funds can go to the Canadian World Friendship Fund, which would then transfer them to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts for programs outside Canada.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision includes a list of 75 donors to be repaid, including individuals, businesses and associations.

Dufresne said that in the course of the battle with Guides Canada, members of the Camp Tewateno development committee were turfed from an organization many had been with for decades as volunteers.

Despite an endorsement from Justice R. MacKinnon, who made the court decision, Dufresne said their status with Guides Canada remains unchanged.


Camp Caritou Pasta Dinner


Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 4.32.46 PM

Please join us for this fundraising dinner. Proceeds go towards our ongoing efforts to keep Camp Caritou.

Saturday March 5, 2016
Trinity United Church
$10 for Adults
$5 for Children 12 and  under


Pasta Dinner 2016 Poster (pdf)