Our history

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

What began as a humble summer camp for kids with cancer has grown into several magical programs for kids and teens with cancer, their siblings, bereaved siblings and their parents.

Camp Ooch 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 Oochigeas

The early years

Camp Oochigeas 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 our first summer in 1984, charismatic Camp Director, Hugh Rennie, led the Camp and 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 its 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

Ooch in the hospital

Fast forward to 1993, when a group of Ooch volunteers started In-Hospital programming at SickKids in Toronto. This new program would bring the fun and games of Ooch Overnight sessions 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 the day they’re diagnosed in paediatric oncology centres across Ontario. 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 programming found a permanent home by taking over the Camp Hollyburn campground in 2004. The new site is situated on the shore of our own private lake, Lake Donner.

This new home, Ooch Muskoka, allowed us to host more Overnight programming year-round including:

  • Weekends At Camp (WACs) during the fall and winter
  • 7Scape, week-long programming for teens, and
  • Teomul, week-long sessions for bereaved siblings

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.

In 2011, our Ooch Downtown location opened in Toronto. Ooch Downtown is the first ever community recreation centre for kids affected by childhood cancer in North America – it’s also the home of our administration office.

Camper climbing pole from adventure course at Ooch Muskoka

The 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 Ooch Muskoka site was completed in the summer of 2018.

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 Ooch to kids and families affected by childhood cancer. As a privately funded charity, we rely on generous donations and incredible Volunteers to bring more Ooch to more kids.

Camp Ooch Muskoka rental facility

1,600

kids and their families experienced the Magic of Ooch in 2018 – more than ever before!

5,000+

oral medications are administered by our MedShed team every Summer at Ooch Muskoka

150,000

hours are donated by our Volunteer Counsellors every year to make Ooch possible.

From our hearts to yours, thank you

To our Volunteers, your passion and dedication are what make Camp Ooch so special. You bring joy and light to kids and families everyday, even when light can feel so far away. Thank you for bringing the Magic of Ooch 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 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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