“Saulaine” holds a special place not just for congregation members but for Latvian society as a whole. In 1952 St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Latvian Church and its visionary pastor Arnold Lusis, later Archbishop Lusis, saw the opportunity to buy “Happy Valley Camp” from Knox Presbyterian Church to provide recently arrived Latvians, emigrés from war-devastated Europe, a place to meet and relax in a beautiful country setting not unlike that of their lost homeland. First buying some 90 acres on the east side of the Nottawasaga River and in 1961 an additional 164 acres of beautiful forest on the opposite (west) side of the river.
The next year, in 1953, the Church established a children's camp that provided some 100 children with an opportunity to spend up to eight weeks outside the city enjoying the fresh air, becoming acquainted with nature, sports, arts and crafts all in a loving Christian environment. This tradition has continued for 64 years.
Today, society offers many options and our Latvian demographic is also changing but Camp Saulaine remains popular. The camp continues to provide a caring environment which recognizes not all our children are fluent in Latvian but still share an interest in their grandparent's culture and heritage. Singing, cultural studies, arts and crafts as well as some religious studies and candlelight services combine with nature studies and sports to provide a fun-filled two weeks of camp. There are scavenger hunts and obstacle courses through the meadows and woods, sports and games in the fields and of course Saturday night bonfires.
The Wednesday night candlelight service held for all campers and visitors at the edge of the pond provides a peaceful setting for spirtual contemplation and connection to God’s creation through His Word.
Through creative arts, the campers are connected to nature and their Latvian heritage. Activities can include learning how to spin and dye wool using natural dyes, knitting and crocheting that wool and of course the art of making “prievites”. Creativity blossoms in other carfts; pottery making, hand dipped beeswax candles, water colour painting with natural pigments, “memory books” made with hand made paper bound by hand, homemade bows and arrows to challenge archery skills and fishing with self made hooks and rods. Yes, there is good fishing in the Nottawasaga River!
Saturday nights are campfire (“ugunskurs”) nights. A typical Latvian tale is presented in word, song and dance. All campers have a role – acting, directing or creating props, music or costumes. These evenings are a stage for old Latvian folk songs, modeern campfire songs and even silly skits.
Finally, in a world of cell phones and computers, the camp discourges their use offering a break from modern technology. Our goal is to connect with each other and the evironment on a personal level and experience ‘good old fashioned’ fun at camp.
For more information, you can read a History of Saulaine, in Latvian.