malcolm camp bell

Big Doe Camp

Big Doe Camp was a boys' residential summer camp located on Big Doe Lake not far from the village of Burk's Falls, Ontario.


The camp was founded by Aubrey and Marjorie Rhamey and operated from its location on Big Doe Lake for more than 50 years. Big Doe Camp was an accredited member of the Ontario Camping Association and the Canadian Camping Association by its affiliation with the Ontario Camping Association .

The summer camping season at Big Doe was broken down into sessions where campers could attend for two, four, or six weeks at a time. Big Doe often hosted other entities such as sports camps or religious camps during the last two weeks of August in which groups would come in to use the facilities after the regular camping season had concluded.

The Camp was operated for more than merely commercial purposes. Aubrey and Marjorie aimed to break even every summer, though quite often they didn't even do that. It was a family tradition, family run operation about giving something back to the community and watching the boys' grow into young men.

During the prime years of operation, Aubrey and Marjorie Rhamey had a tough time trying to keep a balance between bringing in new younger campers and allowing the older campers to keep returning every year. They just didn't have the space for everyone that wanted to attended and were at times forced to turn boys away. But even with that pressure, they also kept a few spaces for boys from the Children's Aid Society who were allowed to attend camp for free. These boys were never grouped together, singled out, or identified.

Program & Activities

The camp program consisted of three periods of assigned programs in the morning and two period of optional in the afternoon. Due to the number of camp activities which revolved around the water swimming was a core program and all campers had swimming as one of their assigned programs during one of the morning periods to receive swimming lessons.

Camp Activities included: Swimming, Fishing, Sailing, Canoeing, Campcraft, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Nature Lore, Horseback Riding, Archery, Arts and Crafts, Riflery (Shooting) and numerous sports including: Badminton, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, Football, Baseball, Rugby, Street Hockey, Tennis, and more.

Football Camp

Football camps were held at Big Doe beginning in 1949 and ran for many years. The football camps were a brainchild of Argo's professional football player and U of T sports hall of fame member Ted Toogood and former North Toronto Collegeiate coach Bob Coulter.

In 1955 the football camp attracted 52 Toronto High School students and a couple of out of towners all trying to get into shape and prepare for the upcoming football season. Camp founder Aubrey Rhamey was himself head grid coach of the Malvern Collegiate football team at the time. There were very few if any football camps operating at the time and this was considered very much needed as the time to get the boys into shape and the start of the football season only a couple of weeks into the start of the school year was very short. The boys attending the camp were not from any one school but came from Lawrence Park, Bloor, UTS, East York, Downsview, Malvern, Scarborough, Vaughn Road and Forest Hill as well as a few out of towners from Brantford, Brampton, and Kirkland Lake.

Among the notable alumni of the football camps is Dr. Murray Brown, a retired professor at Dalhousie University, who attended Big Doe for a football camp in the summer of 1953.

Canoe Tripping

The camp also operated a small canoe tripping program in which most campers got out on a canoe trip every summer. For beginners at Camp they lasted 1 or 2 nights, for the more experienced Campers up to 10 or more days. Some trips went to far off places such as Lake Temagami, Northern Quebec, James Bay, Algonquin Park, and Georgian Bay.

Common trips for boys with beginner to intermediate skill level included:

  • The Big Doe - An overnight in which the boys spend the day paddeling around and camping on Big Doe Lake.
  • The Mag - A trip lasting 3 days starting at Camp and heading down the Magnetawan River through Burk's Falls and Lake Cecebe and ending at the historic Village of Magnetawan.
  • The Ahmic - a trip following the same route at the Mag but lasting 4 days and traveling farther to the end Ahmic Lake.


Competitions and challenges always existed at camp and were a regular tradition. Competitions existed in Swimming, Running, and Portageing among others.

Some of the Competitions Included:

  • The Mile Swim - just that a mile long swim across the lake
  • The Kilometer Race - a kilometer long running race
  • The Portage Race - a kilometer long run portageing a canoe.
  • The Canoe Regatta
  • The Swim Meet

Following Closure

Following the closing of the camp, many of the camps cabins, buildings, docks, canoes, and sailboats were auctioned off. Today the Main Lodge of the camp where the dining hall and main office was located remains and is used as a cottage by the family. The old camp stables can still also be found in the horse field.

Old Camp Memrobilia including photographs and old camp brochures can be found in the Ontario Camping Association Fonds located in the Trent University Archives . A taped interview with Camp founders Aubrey and Marjorie Rhamey talking about the camp can also be found in the Trent University Archives.

The old camp bell used to call campers to Free Swim during the day and down to the waterfront in the morning before breakfast can be seen on display at the Burk's Falls & District Historical Society along with some other memorabilia.

See also

External links


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