RKY Camp Governance & History

RKY Camp was founded by the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and YMCA of Kingston (now the YMCA of Eastern Ontario).  It is governed by a Volunteer Board of Directors committed to providing all those involved with RKY Camp a memorable and valuable outdoor experience. 

Board of Directors 

Chair - Peter Merkley 

chair@rkycamp.org

Vice Chair - Don Heath

Treasurer - Cathy Louis Thrower

Secretary - Ryan MacNeil

Fundraising - Graeme Martin

Director - John Evans

Director - Lauren Crosby

RKY Camp History

Organized camping in Kingston is thought to have been started by the local YMCA in 1902. In that year, a group of 23 boys reportedly had a 6-day outing at Jones Falls. From this time until WWI, outings were held regularly by the YMCA each summer at various locations on the Rideau and St. Lawrence waterways.

​Following WWI, efforts were directed towards making the outings a more permanent venture. The local YMCA started a search of area lakes and chose Eagle Lake because of its numerous inlets that would ensure overnight camps and outings were an 'adventurous challenge'. The campsite was located on property owned by a local farmer, W. Goodfellow. It was situated in an area of heavily wooded, high and dry ground, and featured both a deep waterfront and a shallow, sandy section, for good and non-swimmers alike.

 In the late 1920s, a Camp was held for 2-week periods each summer. The camp was able to operate due to the generosity of W. Goodfellow, who offered his land free of charge. Camp leaders were impressed with the location and took steps to make it a more permanent arrangement. The Chair of the Committee, Professor C.E. Walker of Queen's University, approached the Kingston Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs to finance the purchase. The intention at that time was a joint ownership plan to include as many groups as possible in the organization to ensure continuing financial and organizational strength.

​On July 3, 1930, a 25-acres site was purchased from W. Goodfellow and J. Snider by the Rotary Club of Kingston, Kingston Kiwanis Club, and the Kingston YMCA/YWCA. Rotary and Kiwanis split the purchase price and the YMCA used the accumulated equipment as its share of the initial contribution. The original deed was put under the trusteeship of the 3 representatives, one from each of the 3 organizations: J.C. Reynolds (Rotary), C.E. Walker (YMCA), and W.H. Herrington (Kiwanis).

​A managing committee and operating committee were formed to manage the affairs of the site and organize a yearly boys camp. The name RKY Eagle Lake Camp was decided to be both 'representative and pronounceable'. The arrangement of the 3 organizations jointly owning and operating a community camp was unique in the province and may have been a contributing factor to RKY Camp's long and successful history.

​In the early 1930s, a framed sleeping hut with 11 bunks was built to begin the change over from canvas tents. A dining hall with a huge fireplace, kitchen and office was built in 1931. The facilities grew to include an ice-house, docks, diving tower, rafts, and many other projects. by 1935, RKY Camp operated from the end of June until early September, and included family camping. It was during this period, that the 3 founding organizations began providing sponsorships for boys who needed financial assistance. This became a common practice during WWII when many boys' fathers were overseas.

​In 1943 RKY Camp was forced to close down due to a lack of staff.  It reopened in 1945 and, after the war, the army assisted in providing cooks. The years following the war were a time of rapid expansion at the camp.  A new extension was built on the dining hall in 1951 and another extension was necessary in 1954; 3 new cabins were added in 1952 and another 2 were built in 1957; an extension on the health cabin provided room for hospital beds and a place for the Camp Director to live; new docking was built; and the water system was extended. Most of the materials and work involved in all of the improvements were either donated or supplied at cost, and many hours were put in by 'old campers' and service club members.

​1968 was a momentous year in the history of RKY Camp: a nearby girls camp was merged with RKY resulting in a session exclusively for girls. This programming and summer schedules continued to evolve over the years.

The Homestead dining hall and kitchen was erected in 1977 with the generous support from Britt Smith of Homestead Properties.

The original buildings of the camp that were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s had begun to show their age by the early 1990s.  The original dining hall was converted to the Out-trip Centre and Arts & Crafts Hall was renovated in 1991 with the generous support of Edward and Anna Churchill.  New docks and a diving tower were built with support of the Day Family. 

A multi-year project was started in 2010 to replace cabins from the 1930s.  A standard design was developed that provided more space for campers while maintaining the bunk-bed arrangement in each cabin.  In 2019 the last 3 cabins were replaced.  These renovations included the winterization of several cabins to allow their use in the early spring and late fall.

There have been numerous upgrades to the overall infrastructure.   The septic system was upgraded and expanded and the showers and washrooms improved.  Parking and the roadways were improved to separate vehicle traffic from activity areas.

In 2019 a local resident on Eagle Lake, Arch Ritter, generously donated land on a nearby island to the Camp.  This property will now be used as a campsite for overnight canoe trips, a popular activity for all campers.

For 40 years the Homestead building had been the main focal point of the camp.  However by 2015 major renovations were required.  After lengthy deliberations the Board of the Camp approved the RKY Revitalization Project in 2017.  The most ambitious capital project in the camp’s history this $2.5 million project included the construction of a new staff house, a new welcome/ dining centre, and transformation of the existing Homestead building into the camp outdoor programming centre.

The new staff house was completed in 2018 and provides appropriate accommodation for camp staff.  Construction of the new Welcome Centre/ Dining Hall began in the fall of 2019 and was completed in the  Summer of 2020. 

The new Welcome Centre is fully accessible for campers and their families.  The tables and benches in the dining hall are constructed from sugar Maple trees grown on the property.  These major improvements to the camp would not have been possible without the tremendous support of our many donors, especially Mr. Britt Smith of Homestead Landholdings.

RKY enjoys a strong reputation among its alumni and consistently ranks in the top percentile when compared to other similar camps. Many Kingston area families can point to several generations of campers, all of whom have lasting memories of their time at camp.  They recall the special friendships they developed that they have maintained over the years.  Others talk about the opportunity to experience new things and to challenge themselves both physically and mentally, building their self-confidence.

With the continued support of the community, generous benefactors and enthusiastic campers, RKY Camp will ensure that campers continue to enjoy a traditional camping experience for generations to come.