Our history

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

What began as two humble summer camps for kids with cancer and their families has grown into magical programs all across the province. Camp Ooch was founded in 1983, and Camp Trillium was founded in 1984. On January 1, 2020, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium merged and now leverage their combined strengths.

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.

— Ooch Founder, Mary Pat Armstrong

Read Mary Pat's story

The story of Camp Ooch & Camp Trillium

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 Camp Ooch 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 winter. The high ropes adventure course is constructed at Ooch Mukoka.

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 Ooch 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. Work continued into 2020 to make outdoor spaces equally accessible to campers living with disabilities.

For 2019 and beyond, our mission is to reach out across the province and meet the 79% of kids affected by childhood cancer who still don’t have access to an oncology camp and programming.

To this day, we continue to bring the magic of camp 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.

Camp Ooch Muskoka rental facility

1,600

More than ever before, kids and their families experienced the magic of camp in 2019 thanks to our many generous supporters who funded the expansion of overnight camp at Ooch Muskoka!

5,000+

7,442 oral medications were administered by our summer Med Shed team at Ooch Muskoka in 2019

150,000

Thousands of hours are donated by our volunteer counsellors and special friends every year to make Ooch & Trillium possible.

From our hearts to yours, thank you

To our volunteers: your passion and dedication are what make camp so special. You bring joy and light to kids and families every day, even when light can feel so far away. Thank you for bringing the magic of camp to life.

To our staff, your hard work has impacted thousands of Campers over the years. As you build relationships with more families, partners, donors, volunteers, and fundraisers, we hope you’ll continue to help us grow—thank you.

And finally, thank you to our Ooch & Trillium supporters, near and far, for making our growth possible. You help us change lives and reach more kids every year. We couldn’t do this without you.

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Stay in touch

Learn what’s happening at Ooch-Trillium throughout the year with the Friends of Camp newsletter.