The Buck Lake Boatilla sends physically disabled children to Camp Merrywood, a spe-cially equipped summer camp on the Big Rideau operated by Easter Seals.
Ironically, the Buck Lake Boatilla traces its origins back to an outbreak of petty crime in the 1990s. In response to a rash of break-ins, some ‘take charge’ members of the community formed a Neighbourhood Watch and recruited others to conduct regular pa-trols and keep their eyes open for trouble. The crimes stopped when the culprit was found and arrested. It was not long before the watch organizers decided the watch was no longer necessary. Rather than disbanding, they cast around for another useful pur-pose for the organization. They decided on supporting Easter Seals’ Camp Merrywood and created the slogan “Send a Kid to Camp”. That was in 2005, the start of the Buck Lake Boatilla.
That first year was both hilarious and a bit scary. Randy Ruttan and his campers agreed to have the participating boaters and others assemble for a barbecue at the Hidden Valley campground at the end of the parade of boats. The plan on that first day was for the boats to assemble at the culvert, parade around Pulpit and Buck Islands, and re-assemble in a sort of ‘floatilla’ in Christmas Bay. There was no advance canvas for funds; instead the suggestion was that people would donate $5.00 for every person on their boat, the collection being done by Ross Trudel. It was a great plan but it didn’t allow for the strong wind and high waves that day that made the ‘floatilla’ part impossible and produced any number of near dunkings as Roscoe precariously attempted to do his collections without ramming anybody.
It was quite a show, but a successful one that raised $3,750, enough to send nearly two kids to Camp Merrywood; the goal had been funding enough for one. In those days it cost $2,000 per child; more recently the cost has increased to $2,500. The high cost is due to the need for a very high staff to camper ratio combined with the Camp’s having comprehensive health care services on site to keep the children safe and also with the specialized equipment needed for them to overcome the limits of their physical disabilities.
Each year since 2005 the Boatilla has grown both as a charitable and a community event. Thanks to Randy Ruttan and the campers, many of whom participate actively, that first frustrated ‘flotilla’ in Christmas Bay was replaced shortly thereafter by a com-munity barbecue at the Hidden Valley campground. The campers, largely from the Unit-ed States, are generous contributors to Camp Merrywood and participants in he Boatil-la and BBQ.
Another great innovation adopted early on was to invite past and potential campers to the barbecue and, more recently, for Buck Lakers with big pontoon boats to provide them with rides in the Boatilla itself. Sometimes it has been quite a challenge to get those big battery-powered wheelchairs safely maneuvered onto the decks of pontoon boats but the resulting delighted smiles on the faces of the children and their parents have been well worth the effort.
Another more recent innovation has been live music at the wind-up BBQ. This has been provided by Caz’ band, a father associated with the Kingston Symphony Orchestra and his two daughters. A feature number in the last two years has been an original song written and sung by Kiera, a Merrywood camper, who has come with her parents sever-al times to the Boatilla. Another speaks well for the future. About four years ago, some children from Hidden Valley spontaneously showed up with a little plastic cash register and put on a bake sale, all proceeds (over $300) going to the Boatilla. It was a surprise to everyone except, of course, their parents who no doubt furnished encouragement, cooking skills, and the baked goods’ ingredients. In the same spirit of giving, other chil-dren on Buck Lake have put on a book sale and offered lemonade from a dock in the narrows with the proceeds earmarked for various causes, including cancer research.
The Boatilla’s contributes substantially to our community’s pride, its identity, and to the pleasure its seasonal and full-time members derive from their participation in it. Its con-tribution to Easter Seals is relatively easily measured in terms of the money raised for Camp Merrywood. Its contribution to physically challenged children is partially counted by the number of kids sent to camp. Getting measures of what going to camp means to those children, their enjoyment, development, self-assurance, and the respite provided to their parents is significant but not easily measured.
The first principle of the Boatilla has been that all donations matter and are welcome, small and large; it’s the spirit that counts. The second principle is that 100% of the donations go to Easter Seals and Camp Merriwood; the Boatilla incurs no administrative costs.
The 2017 Boatilla will be the 13th annual. Cumulatively (including the anticipated dona-tions this year) our community, through the Buck Lake Boatilla, will have raised over $200,000 over its 13 years, enough money to send to camp around 100 kids who would not otherwise have been able to have this great experience.
That’s something of which to be really proud!
The Buck Lake Boatilla is set for Sunday, July 2 this year.
The 11th annual Buck Lake Boatilla to raise funds for Easter Seals Camp Merrywood commences at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, at the culvert on the south branch of Buck Lake. All forms of watercraft are welcome. The event will feature a tour of the lake, followed by a complementary barbeque at Hidden Valley Campground at 3 p.m., and a checque presentation to Easter Seals.
What began as an attempt to raise enough money to send one child with physical disabilities to camp quickly became a large event within the community involving local, regional, and even international contributions.
Buck Lake resident, Pat Haggerty said, “Our Community Watch organization wanted to give something charitable back to the community, so we decided to work with Easter Seals, specifically for Camp Merrywood. We wanted to provide an opportunity for children and youth with physical disabilities to do the things that we do here at Buck Lake – sailing, fishing, canoeing, and having campfires.”
During their first event in 2005, the Buck Lake community raised over $3700, and was able to send one child to camp. Over 10 years later, the Boatilla continues, and it has raised over $135,000 to date, sending 64 children to camp.
Last year along, $2,700 was raised, enough to send 10 kids to camp.
“The dedication and enthusiasm of the Buck Lake community is really extraordinary,” said Jessica Kostuck, Fundraising Specialist for Easter Seals Ontario. “Camp Merrywood’s programs and activities help kids develop a strong sense of self-esteem, achievement, and confidence. The annual Buck Lake Boatilla exemplifies the spirit of Camp Merrywood, and is a delight for local Easter Seals families and supporters alike.”
“Our success wouldn’t be possible without the outstanding support of the community,” stated Don Hopkins, Buck Lake resident and event organizer. “We are a small community, but we extend well beyond the lake. We’ve had fundraising efforts come in from as far as Lancaster and Toronto, the event even reaches out internationally to Pennsylvania. Over the years, donations have come in from local businesses, in areas such as Kingston, Belleville, Verona, Westport and Glenburnie, to mention a few”.
“Sending children with physical disabilities to Camp Merrywood has always been our objective, and all of the funds raised go towards meeting that goal,” said community member Duncan Sinclair. “The event also helps to develop our community as well, and really gets our members involved and contributing to a great cause.”