Our history

"You have failed only when you have failed to try."

Founded in 1983 and 1984 respectively, Camp Ooch & Camp Trillium, combined their strengths with a merger in 2020, followed by a rebrand to Campfire Circle in 2022.

What began as two humble summer camps for kids with cancer and their families offers healing through happiness year-long in hospitals, in the community and at overnight camp, all across Ontario.

View our combined historical timeline here.

Camp is a place where any kid with cancer can go, feel normal, do normal camp things, throw off their wigs and prostheses, and just be themselves with everybody else, knowing they’re going to be accepted and understood.

— CAMPFIRE CIRCLE Founder, Mary Pat Armstrong

Read Mary Pat's story


The early years

Camp Ooch was founded in 1983 by enthusiastic volunteers Mary Pat Armstrong, Doug Biggar, Jeanne Gallagher, Peter Miller, and Judy Tripp. The first summer camp session hosted 38 Campers for two weeks in beautiful Geneva Park.

Following its first summer in 1984, charismatic Camp Director Hugh Rennie coined Ooch’s motto, “You have failed only when you have failed to try.”

By 1987, Camp Ooch had already outgrown the space at Geneva Park and moved to Rousseau Lake College, a private boarding school in Muskoka. With access to more lakeside facilities and lodging, Campers could now participate in watersports and enjoy wilderness camp excursions in Algonquin Park.

Group Photo of founding members of CAMPFIRE CIRCLE in front of birthday banner

A presence in the hospital

Fast forward to 1993, when a group of volunteers started in-hospital programming at SickKids in Toronto. This new program would bring the fun and games of overnight camp to kids and families in need of support during hospital stays.

What started as a once-a-month initiative eventually grew to seven days and four evenings a week at SickKids.

Today, our in-hospital program staff and volunteers often meet kids and families in paediatric oncology centres across Ontario on the day of diagnosis. We give kids and their families much needed respite from the realities of childhood cancer with music, games, and welcoming faces in a hospital environment.

Camper on treatment in hospital doing camp crafts

The 2000s: home sweet home

Thanks to donors, Camp Ooch’s overnight camp program found a permanent home by taking over the Camp Hollyburn campground in 2004. The new site is situated on the shore of its own private lake, Donner Lake. The dedicated doctors and nursing staff who came to camp year after year helped Ooch Muskoka become the only overnight camp in Canada able to provide IV chemotherapy and blood transfusions. Now, Campers who have complex medical care needs can enjoy a traditional camp environment and just be kids.

Camp Teomul, a session for bereaved siblings has its first summer at Ooch Muskoka, and Weekends at Camp (WACs) are introduced that fall and winter. The high ropes adventure course is constructed at Ooch Muskoka.

Trillium purchases its first office in Hamilton on Queensdale Avenue, and introduces new adolescent and young adult programs, and in June 2008, Garratt’s Island is purchased by Camp Trillium with the generous support of Oddfellows and Rebekahs, who fundraised to pay for the entire purchase. Garatt’s Island is renamed OuR Island.  A new lease for Rainbow Lake is signed for 32 years, while Ooch raises the roof on Barny, the barn, a multi-purpose indoor activity space at Ooch Muskoka.

In 2011, Ooch Downtown opens in Toronto as the first-ever community recreation centre for kids affected by childhood cancer in North America.

Camper climbing pole from adventure course at CAMPFIRE CIRCLE Muskoka

The recent present & future

By 2014, we wanted—and needed—to expand Ooch Muskoka and accommodate more amazing Campers. With the help of generous partners and donors, construction began in 2014 with the goal of serving up to 50% more Campers year-round.

This project was successful and the newly expanded site was completed in the summer of 2018. 

In 2020, Camp Ooch & Camp Trillium decided they were better together, and merged. As a merged organization, site work continued throughout to 2020 to make outdoor spaces equally accessible to campers living with disabilities. We adapted to the arrival of COVID-19 with a new virtual program model that lasted until in-person programs resumed in August of 2021, continuing throughout the pandemic as needed. In January 2022, we rebranded as Campfire Circle.

To this day, we continue to bring a variety camp-inspired programs to kids and families affected by childhood cancer. As a privately funded charity, we rely on generous donations and incredible volunteers to bring more camp to more kids.

Are you part of our history?

CAMPFIRE CIRCLE Muskoka Gatts Lodge with people on the site

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Learn what’s happening at Campfire Circle throughout the year with the Friends of Camp newsletter.

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