Sat. Feb 24th, 2024
Awakening memories next to the tone of a tent

Today’s post comes from Rachel DeGreef, Project and Communications Assistant for Ontario Parks.

We all agree that the smell of a campfire and fresh pine can bring back our best camping memories.

Science tells us that the olfactory senses are the strongest memories we have. John Leadston, project manager for Arrowhead Provincial Park, shares that “the smell of that canvas [tent] “It takes me back to a place I would return to in the blink of an eye.”

Camper Jane Lever agrees with this sentiment. She writes: “That tarp smell will always remain in our memories as associated with many fun times, the occasional scary storm and many adventures in quite a few Ontario parks.”

The big orange tent

When a call came in to find a 1970s tent for the Ontario Parks 125th Anniversary exhibits and events, Jane and Jack Lever quickly pulled their tent out of storage!

You may have seen the tent on Breakfast Television in June, CHCH Morning Live in July and you’ll see it again at the Algonquin Time Capsule event in August.

Here’s the story behind this (now famous) fifty-year-old tent and some other fond camping memories that emerged from our talk about 1970s camping gear.

A family camping tradition begins

The store’s story begins in the summer of 1967, when newlyweds Jane and Jack purchased their own store: the Orange Tourist Store.

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Family of three, posing in the 70s with an orange background (orange tent)

After that purchase, the tent remained in many of his fondest memories of summer camps with his growing family.

Jane and Jack’s first night with the tour tent was at Grundy Lake Provincial Park, where it rained all night. It was recommended to soak the tent before camping, but they didn’t do it.

Fortunately, not a drop of rain fell on the tent the next morning! Jane said: “It’s made of good quality canvas and served us well.”

Forming a family of campers

Pictured below is Bill, Jane and Jack’s first-born son. The first time the Levers took him camping was on Canada Day weekend in 1971, and he turned out to be a fantastic little camper.

This was the beginning of the growing Lever family: soon after, two younger brothers came to Billy.

Three children, in full activity, in a food store in the 70s

Remembering some good times

John Leadston has a similar memory that surfaces every time he smells damp canvas. John describes how his family borrowed a Woods tent from friends to go camping in Arrowhead the first year it opened in 1971.

A young man lying in a sleeping bag, playing a board gameJohn Leadston playing a board game called “Algonquin Voyageurs” in Algonquin Provincial Park in 1973

At only five years old, John was determined to help with the tent, but as it was quite heavy, he was only given the task of rolling it up. John remembers the rain overnight while he was inside the tent; His father told him “don’t touch the sides,” but his curiosity usually won.

“It was a good thing we were on cots and the river flowing down the wall next to me was heading straight for the door!” remembers Juan.

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Colman lantern with vintage refrigerator in the foreground with a large orange tent in the background

Forty years later, when John re-entered a similar tent made of canvas, the smell immediately caught his attention. Memories of his childhood came flooding back: the rain, the chipmunks running around. It was like entering a family photo album from more than forty years ago.

A precious reminder

Today, the Levers’ tent is clearly worn out. It has seen many bright, sunny days, and has been a source of protection from rain and storms on many visits to provincial parks. The tent has witnessed the creation of many memories and continues to generate memories of days gone by.

Thank you to the Levers for generously donating this tent for Ontario Parks’ 125th anniversary celebrations.

Do you have memories of camping in canvas tents? Share your photos and memories with us using #OP125 on social media!