By: Mike Mastromatteo
From the entrance way, the Springwater Christian Campground (SCC) in Minesing, near Barrie, Ontario, appears no different from other facilities in the Huronia area. But a closer look at the property gives an indication that this campground is unlike others dotting the central Ontario landscape.
An abundance of crucifixes and religious icons on the proprietors’ home make a strong faith statement. A few yards to the east, one discovers a secluded park dedicated to unborn children. Tiny, hand-mad crosses represent the lives of babies lost to abortion. Visitors are encouraged to adopt spiritually these innocent victims, while others might offer atonement for having surrendered their unborn child to abortion.
Further along, an outdoor grotto to Our Lady offers a quiet spot for prayer and reflection. Two large stone tablets, worthy of Moses, stand engraved with the Ten Commandments – a bold reminder of a living faith.
Springwater Christian Campground is one family’s attempt to inject faith values into the sometimes harsh realities of today’s business environment. It represents not only a turning away from the bottom-line, but an opportunity for fathers, mothers and children to celebrate family life in a Catholic-Christian atmosphere.
It didn’t start out that way. Owners Marilyn and Victor Carvalho purchased the property in 1989 intent on operating a regular camp ground get-away for the large market in Southern Ontario. Foregoing secure work as teachers for a chance at a more serene lifestyle, the couple uprooted their five children from their Pickering home for a new kind of adventure.
Hard reality however intruded their sanctuary.
“We became fed up with drunken parties, smoking, profanity, and people looking for sex at every opportunity,” Victor told The Interim. “It wasn’t the kind of environment we wanted for our children.”
Towards the end of their first season, the Carvalhos made the financially precarious decision to transform the campground into something more uplifting. Today Springwater Christian Campground prohibits smoking, drinking, profanity, and premarital sex on the property. While these rules may be difficult to enforce at all times, they appeal to the family-oriented visitor who believes vacations are not excuse for indulgence.
The camp’s mission is “to provide and promote a year round alcohol and smoke free, Catholics-Christian environment for recreation, reflection and fellowship.” The new regime led to an immediate drop in the number of campers using the site. Even the local campground association resisted the family’s efforts to transform the camp. With a declining customer base and falling revenues, the Carvalhos seriously considered selling the property. A sluggish economy however, kept potential buyers away. After much prayer and reflection the Carvalhos decided to keep the property in hopes that a new family-oriented customer base would develop.
Today, the 40-acre Springwater camp offers hiking trails, play areas for children, sport fields, miniature golf, a petting zoo, campfire sites and a snack bar. A new hall is available for music, drama, seminars and other presentations. A “reflection valley” including the Stations of the Cross, the memorial to the unborn and the prayer grotto provide food for the spirit.
Father Cecil Nrornha, chaplain at Monsignor Percy Johnson School in Rexdale, has celebrated masses at Springwater Christian Camp. He praised the Carvalhos for their willingness to suffer financial loss on a matter of principle.
“Not many people would put aside economic concerns to stand for what they believe in,” Father Noronha said. “I’m hoping that some groups might come foreword to support the campground operation while the Carvalhos go through this difficult adjustment period,”
Father Ambrose Sheehy, pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Barrie and a frequent guest at the camp, said Springwater is a powerful example of what lay people can do in strengthening today’s families.
Scarborough school teacher Sheryn Ratnasingham recently organized a get-together for her extended gamily at Springwater in September. A total of 14 family members came together at Springwater for a weekend of games, relaxation and reflection.
Although heavy rainfall curtailed some of the outdoor activity, the family found the weekend entirely rewarding. “We don’t often get a chance to spend time together as a family,” Sheryn told The Interim, “We were able to open up to each other and be ourselves.”
She said the Carvalhos went out of their way to welcome the new arrivals and to see to their comforts. “They made us feel more like family than guests,” Sheryn said, adding that her family is considering a second visit sometime in 1997.
While Springwater is earning a sterling reputation in south-central Ontario, the Carvalhos’ struggle is not over. Victor reported that the business has foregone close to half-a-million dollars in revenue since the no-smoking, no-drinking policy went into effect. Revenues dropped from $100,000 in 1989 to only $5,000 the following year. The amount doubled to nearly $11,000 in 1991 and the upward trend continued until 1995. Figures for 1996 show some stagnation, a fast Victor attributes to unfavorable weather conditions this past summer.
Sticking to the rules
“Some people have told us that they love the Catholic-Christian atmosphere of the camp, but they wish we would relax the no smoking-no drinking rule,” Victor said. “We could fill the camp all summer long if we eliminate the rules, but we’re determined to live by them.”
Victor emphasized that anyone is welcome to stop by the Unborn Park, the grotto of Our Lady or the Stations of the Cross for a moment prayer and reflection. There is no admission charge for these areas and visitors are not required to make donations.
“People can park their cars and pray for as long as they wish,” Victor said. “They don’t even have to let us know of their arrival.”
Although the regular camping activity runs from May through October, the campground is in use year round. Catholic Family Weekends take place the second and fourth weekend of each month. Other weekends are usually reserved for singles/young adult gatherings. The weekend activity includes reflection, prayer vigils, reconciliation, the celebration of Mass and recreation. A $180 fee includes all meals and accommodation at one of the Springwater mobile homes. Families providing their own tents and food can partake in the weekends for a $30 fee.
The Carvalhos are considering a plan to admit all families free of charge and asking for donations. “Some people may be under the impression that we’re financially assisted by the province or by the church,” Victor said. “By considering donations approach, we’re hoping to emphasize that this is not a subsidized operation.”
In the winter season, visiting families stay with host families in nearby Barrie. The admission fee normally charged for campground use is passed on to the host families to cover expenses, although the Carvalhos provide meals for Catholic Family Weekend participants.
Another unique feature of the camp is the Festival for Life held in July. This weekend-long event includes Mass (prayer and worship for non-Catholic participants), reflection on the plight of the unborn, guest speakers, workshops and a candlelight vigil at the Unborn Park. Often the proceeds from the Festival of Life go in support of Ontario pro-life organizations.
The Carvalhos have scheduled a Christmas party for Jesus on Sunday, December 8. Instead of receiving gifts, partygoers are asked to bring a Christmas gift for Santa Claus, who then presents them to needy families. SCC will also be the site for an outdoor New Year’s party, December 31.
While there are no guarantees as to the viability of Springwater, the Carvalhos are determined to stick to their guns. “There are so few places where families can come together in a Catholic-Christian environment,” Victor said. “We realized we would be taking a big risk, but we figured that God had given us this opportunity, it was up to us to make it work.”
For more information about Springwater Christian Campground, write SCC, R.R.2, Minesing, Ontario, L0L 1Y0, or call toll-free 1-800-843-6013. The Carvalhos are also on the Internet and can be contacted at their website address, email@example.com.