History of the Crane Lake Property
In 1904, European immigrant Aaron Gould purchased the 200 acre property, on which CLDC is located today, from the government as the site for a future homestead. His fiancé never joined him in Canada and he ended up living in seclusion and growing horses, potatoes and apples on the property for over 40 years instead. In the late 1940’s, he willed the property to the Catholic Church in exchange for looking after him in his old age. In 1960, the Catholic Church sold the property to Ben Dell, an engineer with the Ministry of Natural Resources, who had come across the property while rebuilding the dam on Crane Lake. Together with the Mennonite Brethren community in St. Catherine’s and the Kitchener area, Ben took steps towards turning the property into a camp. Due to Crane Lake’s remote location and distance from Kitchener and St. Catherine’s, the Mennonite Brethren Church reconsidered and built a camp in another location instead. Ben kept the property, called it MB camp, and in 2004 sold it to CLDC founder and camp director Ron Weber who was acting on behalf of the CLDC charity-in-founding. Since then, CLDC has been using the property to run annual summer camp programs for boys and young men ages 10 to 17.
CLDC’s founder and camp director Ron Weber was first exposed to therapeutic wilderness camping in 1989, at age 19, at Fairplay Wilderness Camp School, a faith-based camp for at-risk youth in South Carolina. The seed was planted and two years later, in 1991, he joined the camp as a volunteer counsellor, working with teenaged boys and young men ages 10 to 17. In 1992, when during a staff training session, counsellors were asked to write out a dream for their life, Ron shared his vision of a camp similar to Fairplay in his home province of Ontario. He wanted to see Ontario’s wilderness and boys who were struggling with everyday life challenges come together. Ron had experienced a new sense of freedom and passion, as he had learned to communicate, to solve problems, to deal with conflict, etc., in his role as camp counsellor. He felt strongly that he needed to share that passion and to reach out to at-risk youths in his native Canada as well. The concept of therapeutic wilderness camping resonated with Ron because he realized its impact on campers’ lives and because it had changed his life as well. After completing his term at Fairplay, Ron returned to Ontario, where he worked on the family farm, in construction and in sales for a lumber company for several years. In 2000, Ron, his wife Cindy and their children moved to Pennsylvania for Ron to serve as camp supervisor at Bald Eagle Boys Camp for two years. That experience proved to be instrumental, as it taught Ron how to run a camp in a Northern climate similar to that of Crane Lake, Ontario.
Crane Lake and Ben Doell’s Legacy
In 2000, two weeks before leaving for his two-year term at Bald Eagle Boys Camp, Ron was introduced to the Crane Lake property for the first time through a friend who had been a Fair Play counsellor as well. The following Saturday they went up and visited the property together. While honouring his commitment in Pennsylvania, the thought of starting a camp at Crane Lake never left Ron.
In 2002, a year and a half into his work at Bald Eagle Boys Camp, Ron called Ben Doell, the owner of the Crane Lake property at the time. Ben invited him to camp on the property during the summer and to submit a proposal to purchase the property. During the summer of 2003, as Ron and his family camped on the property again, Ben shared his heart and his vision of the future of the property. A devout Christian, his dream from the day he had bought the property 40 years earlier had always been that of a place where people come to faith. He took Ron to the narrows and showed him where baptisms could be held and the “amphitheatre” where those in attendance would sit. In 2012, 52 years after Ben’s vision was born, it came full circle when two CLDC campers were baptized in the same spot that Ben had prophesied over.
The Founding and Evolution of Crane Lake Discovery Camp
In 2003, Ron and a group of friends who shared his vision for a camp for boys and young men devised the plan to establish a charity and to purchase the Crane Lake property. In the fall of that year, they put together a proposal and presented it to Ben Doell. Sharing the group’s vision, Ben gave them very favourable conditions without which the purchase could not have been completed. In 2004, Crane Lake Discovery Camp was established as a not-for-profit organization and the original Board of Directors constituted itself. A year later, the organization obtained status as a registered charity. As Ron’s vision of Crane Lake Discovery Camp turned into reality, Ben Doell’s personal legacy became part of the camp’s mission. In the fall of 2004, Ron organized two canoe trips with teenaged boys to explore the property and its surroundings. In 2005, Ron and the developing team of CLDC counsellors ran the first summer sessions with campers from a group home; that year the Voyagers camp site was built. In the summer of 2009, the second group camp site (Explorers camp) was added during two two-week camping sessions. In 2010 and 2011 camp consisted of three two-week sessions, and in 2012 the format was changed to one two-week and two three-week-sessions.
In 2005, Ron met Tom Weber, who today serves as CLDC’s program supervisor, at a camp conference at Fair Play Camp in South Carolina where Tom was serving as a counsellor. As his two-year-commitment there was coming to the end, Tom was intrigued by what Ron had started in Ontario. Tom had been called into working with at-risk boys after his younger brother Josh had died of cancer at age 9 when Tom was 19. Watching his brother fight for his life for two years had left a deep impact on Tom. Seeing his brother’s life being taken away had planted the seed in him to help children who still had a fighting chance to succeed in life. When he connected with Ron in 2005, Tom felt he had to get involved with Crane Lake Discovery Camp after completing his term at Fairplay and ended up moving to Ontario in 2007 with his wife Rita. Since then Ron and Tom have become partners both in leading camp and in business, running their joint construction company nine months out of the year and dedicating themselves, together with their families, full-time to camp for three months in the summer.