Camp Conservation

By Heather Reichle

YMCA Kanawana in Quebec is doing its part to keep the air a little cleaner, the water a little clearer and the earth a little sturdier. Camp Kanawana began creating a green camp in the fall of 2004.


“We were in a … process of looking forward for the future of the camp,” says Daniel Tierney, YMCA of Greater Montreal Development and Marketing Director. “We identified whom we serve, evaluated our facility, and listed the renovations and repairs to be made to improve our camp.”

The camp administrators developed a strategic plan, and identified the realities of what the camp could do to best serve its campers beyond physical activities.

“Our environment is in crisis,” said Tierney. “We don’t need to sit in a classroom to educate. We need to create a site to live in to create a behavioral change.”

The mission of the camp began to reflect the environmental focus, and the camp completed its first phase this past June.

Water Works--With Less
One of the areas to be looked at was the water system, which included the drinking water, showers and toilets.

All of the buildings underwent an ecological renovation. The water systems were replaced with eco-friendly alternatives provided by Clivus Multrum Inc., a firm that works with parks, golf courses, ski areas, nature centers, green buildings, etc. to develop eco-friendly facilities.

“By using our composting toilets and greywater systems, customers can manage and treat all of their wastewater sustainably, on-site,” said Don Mills, Sales Director. “Often our technologies are used by owners as a vehicle for teaching about the environmental problems caused by conventional waste-treatment systems.”

Camp Kanawana installed reducers in all of its showers and sinks to reduce water usage, and replaced flushing toilets with compost ones to decrease electricity.

The compost toilet concept may seem unfavorable for obvious reasons, but Mills said it is not a problem, unlike the odor from traditional portable toilets.

“There is no odor in the toilet room thanks to a fan which pulls air continuously down the toilet fixture.”

The compost toilet captures the plant nutrients from excreta and converts them into fertilizers. As a nutrient recycling system, the end-products from the compost system are returned to the soil to assist in plant growth. As opposed to conventional systems, this is recycling and not putting harmful waste, loaded with toxins, into the drinking water and aquatic habitats.

Returning Nutrients To Nature
Along with water conservation, the camp focused on new ways to heat the water, improve lighting and reduce waste.

In an effort to address heating, it switched from propane heat to one wood-broiler per building. The broiler is able to heat 500 to 600 gallons of water with as few as five or six logs. Power pipes were installed to transport the hot water throughout the buildings.

The camp capitalized on natural light by installing additional windows and skylights. Artificial light is set on timers, only to be used during the dark hours. The camp has also reworked its ventilation to be natural, disregarding fan usage.

In order to cut down on other waste, CampKanawana created an artificial marsh. This helps with water treatment and eliminates waste from going into nearby lakes and streams. Reefs were planted in sand, peat moss and substrates with a plastic, vinyl lining.

The water is pumped with air and treated in a natural process through the roots and substrates. The marsh is an ecological alternative to polluting the local wildlife.

In addition to cleaner waste water, the camp developed a way to reduce waste in food products. The kitchen now uses a compost pile. The camp--which goes through about 800 to 1,000 meals a day--benefits by using the waste as fertilizer in an organic vegetable garden. The garden is another opportunity to educate the campers on organic food and how waste can benefit another round of crops.

Adapt, Adjust, Move Forward
All of these changes are part of Camp Kanawana’s first round of an eco-friendly project, and so far, the camp has had positive responses.

“The kids really enjoy it,” said Tierney. “They have had no problems adjusting to the new toilets; they really don’t have an odor. [The kids] say they have plenty of hot water, and they enjoy the buildings a lot. Once they are exposed to it, we hope they integrate it into their daily activities.”

YMCA Kanawana is the first camp in Quebec to showcase environmental sustainability. It is striving to convert its site to a more ecological model and a new educational tool in order to be more environmentally conscious. It is also making improvements in using the facility year-round.

Although the first phase has been completed, the project has only begun. YMCA Kanawana plans on adding three-season cabins and pavilions in 2008 and developing an environmental pavilion for year-round use by 2009-2010.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at