A lifestyle that has become free time

Campers enjoy socializing with nature, spending time with loved ones and laughing around a campfire.
Photo: Drew Farwell

Canadians love to camp. Every year, millions of us go to camps. But did you know why camping has become so popular in the country? Let’s explore the surprising and tumultuous history of this hobby that is part of our national identity.

Let’s start our discovery with a definition. According to Encyclopedia Canada, camping is defined as “a way to live in a makeshift or mobile outdoor shelter.” This interpretation applies not only to the modern camps, but also to the way of life of the First Nations as it has existed for thousands of years. So the camp’s history dates back to very remote times.

The explorers, missionaries, and travelers were also from the camp. But at the end of their era, the era of the fur trade, camping underwent a profound change. During the 1880s, the fur economy disintegrated. Overhunting is pushing bison and beavers to the brink of extinction and depleting their hides’ gold mine. Additionally, the indigenous population was confined to sanctuaries. Cultural devastation ensues. With few exceptions, camping as a lifestyle no longer exists.

Species

A symbol of the people, the tipi represents the camping lifestyle. Taipei also symbolizes camping as it exists today – a popular pastime.
Photo: Garrick Sangel

First Nations obtained and traded leather for tangible goods with companies such as the Hudson Bay Company. Like its competitors, the latter is losing its workforce and customers. Aware of the necessity of adaptation or disappearance, various manufacturers of boats, tents and sleeping bags are trying to attract white customers by targeting them with ads that encourage camping as a recreational activity. Items formerly associated with the Aborigines, such as the famous woolen blankets, are now sold for recreational camping.

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Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones promoting camping. The creation of Banff National Park by the government and the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 also stimulated camping. The first campers at that time were mainly wealthy people.

Towards the end of the nineteenth centurye Century and early 20the Century, we attend the first camps organized by churches, scouts, guides or the YMCA. Camping becomes a way to deepen one’s faith, develop friendships and self-reliance, as well as improve young people’s health and personality. It’s the start of camping for most Canadians as we know it today.


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