“The first day you get to camp, it gives you opportunities to build and gain trust in the people around you. It also gives you the opportunity to build trust in yourself. I think camp takes whatever is in you and gives you a megaphone. It’s like: “Scream it. Right now. Here’s a space. Scream whatever you have inside.”
When Zakary-Georges reflects on years of formative adventures at Tims Camps, the first memory to come to mind isn’t a conquest, but a conversation.
It was Zakary-Georges’ third year of camp when their counsellor told their cabin that they were gay. At the time, Zakary-Georges – who identifies as genderqueer – hadn’t discussed their gender or sexuality at camp.
Seeing the courage of their counsellor – as well as how they were accepted – resonated deeply with Zakary-Georges.
“Camp played a big part in my queer journey,” Zakary-Georges says. “When my counsellor came out, it was the first time I felt like it wasn’t a big thing to do. That queer counsellor was great with me. They opened up and talked to me about their personal journey, which helped me feel more comfortable about my journey.
“I think every year after that made me realize how great a space Tims Camps was and how I could be myself there. I think that played well into how comfortable I am with my gender identity and my sexual identity as well.
As youth return to Tims Camps summer after summer, they’re challenged to expand the horizon of their future in a supportive community. That process not only helps them learn new skills that allow them to achieve in life, but it helps them connect with who they want to be.
“It created a safe space at camp that translated into having a personal safe space for my own discovery.”
How did you feel the first time you arrived at Tims Camps?
It felt very magical. I had never travelled on my own before and I hadn’t travelled a lot at all. It was my first time going away from home, which was very stressful for me at first. But as soon as I got off the bus, I remember the feeling of being scared went away.
I was a kid from Quebec who loved English, but in my family, no one spoke it. So, to me, this was a huge opportunity to speak English and learn it and practice it.
I remember being very excited to speak my broken English to my counsellors.
You’re fluent now, so you must have remained committed to learning?
Yes, and actually a counsellor I got along with was a big help. She would practice her French with me and I would practice my English. We would practice and practice, every day.
Every year, I would talk to my counsellor on the first day of camp and I would say, “I know we’re in a French cabin, but I want to talk to you as much as possible in English.”
After the first year, I started listening and watching things in English to make sure my skills got better so I could show my counsellors how much my English had improved.
Still to this day, English is something I’m very focused on learning and getting better and more comfortable with. That’s why I moved from Quebec to Ontario – I want to become immersed in it.
Were a lot of the outdoor activities new to you?
Very new! Everything at camp was brand new to me. I was a very artistic kid – I started doing dance when I was 4 and I went on to do musical theatre. But I had never done any of the outdoor things we did at camp.
But because of that, I think camp helped me develop trust in myself when it came to doing things I didn’t know about. Jumping into freelance as an illustrator now was scary, but it was the skills I learned in camp that helped me achieve that.
Camping, canoeing, hiking, dealing with bugs – that was all very frightening to me at first, but I learned to love it!
Now, those things are part of my everyday life. As soon as I have any free time, I’m going to go out camping, hiking, canoeing or kayaking.
How do you think Tims Camps affected your journey?
The first day you get there, it gives you opportunities to build and gain trust in the people around you. But it also gives you the opportunity to build trust in yourself.
I think camp takes whatever is in you and gives you a megaphone. It’s like: “Scream it. Right now. Here’s a space. Scream whatever you have inside.”