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The summer of 1999 and outdoor plumbing

In this week's Engel's Angle, reporter Erika Engel recalls a summer at a campground.
Erika Engel and her dog Polar on a hike in Algonquin Park last fall. A summer of camping didn’t deter her or her family from taking camping trips again. There’s just no trailers involved anymore. Photo by Michael Francis.

I come from a family of outdoor lovers.

My parents spent their honeymoon camping in the Algonquin Park interior. Our family vacation often took us back to Algonquin. We prefer tents to hotels and one of my favourite ways to enjoy breakfast is in front of a campfire.

In the summer of 1999, my parents sold our house on Arthur Street and made plans to build a house on Napier Street in Thornbury. My dad spent most of his career in construction building houses.

There was a bit of a gap between the closing date on Arthur Street and when we could move into the new house, so our family of five leaned on our love of camping and moved into a small trailer at what was then Bayview Campground on Thornbury’s waterfront. It’s green space now, but in 1999 it was a busy little campground with sites carved out of a maze of cedar trees.

Our trailer was old. The cushions were wrapped in mustard and brown plaid material that would scratch your bare skin. There was a rainbow of vinyl ribbons hanging in the doorway, and the curtains matched the cushions. All five of us couldn’t fit in the trailer, so we had a tent for sleeping and one for dining.

We had a grey and white kitten named Rex and we kept him on a harness and leash tied to the picnic table. I was learning the bass guitar, and had borrowed one from my school for the summer. I didn’t want to use my amp in such a public space though, so I practiced on my electric base without any amplification. If I became a famous musician, that would have been a great story. Alas, I doubt I’ll get that biopic I was dreaming about.

In case you don’t remember, the summer of 1999 was probably the wettest, rainiest summer of the decade. Breakfast campfires just aren’t the same when you’re soggy. Everything was wet.

And while we all still loved being outdoors, my dad seemed to work a little faster to get the house finished, if only so we didn’t have to walk across the campground to use the bathroom.

I also recall using the campground payphone to call my friends, and arranging a time for them to call me so I didn’t have to use my own quarter. We didn’t have cell phones yet, or if we did the plans were so terrible you could only use them to call your parents if there was an emergency.

I’m sure a summer in a cramped and very damp trailer was the hardest on my parents who were both working, building a house and trying to take care of three kids. It can’t have been easy to cook every meal on a camp stove for months. But we survived and stuck together! Had there been fitness trackers back then my two brothers and I could have logged hundreds of kilometres on our bikes – the campground backed onto the Georgian Trail. We made lots of friends and many nights we shared our campfire with the other soggy campers.

I’m not sure how long it took our family to take a camping trip together again, but we did, and it’s a tradition all three kids continue with their families.

The trailer didn’t survive. After that summer we let it go. Though it wasn’t fashionable at the time, I guess my family was one of the first to try tiny living. It was … wet.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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