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Explorations: Two Islands Weekend

The view from the slide at Camp Timberlane

The idea came to Danielle Goldfinger when she was out with friends reminiscing about the years she spent at summer camp as a kid. Wouldn't it be fun, she thought, if we went to summer camp now, as adults? While many notions like this never come to fruition, Goldfinger is used to bringing ideas to life. She is the event coordinator for the Stop Community Food Centre, a community-driven advocacy organization for healthy living. "I realized that because I am an event planner, this was something I could take on and pursue," she says.
The result was Two Islands Weekend: a getaway that took place at Camp Timberlane just outside of Haliburton earlier this month. The weekend featured traditional summer camp activities, but with a twist. Toronto chefs prepared gourmet camp-inspired dishes including pastrami pork belly and barbecued chicken wings with mustard, brown sugar, and jalapeno.

Campers were encouraged to participate in camp activities such as a massive game of capture the flag, baseball, yoga on the beach, hiking, canoeing, ziplines, and much more. Evenings were for trivia, bonfires, and sing-alongs, but they turned into dance parties as the hours disappeared and campers took advantage of bottomless craft beer, wine (including tastings), and coolers. 

More than 100 people (mostly from Toronto) took a chance on summer camp for adults. Some said they wanted to experience camp again; some wanted to experience it for the first time.
"Summer camp is not cheap and it's not accessible to every family," Goldfinger says. She described how it taught her independence, among other things. "Camp to me is such a formative experience. It makes up the person I am today."

But at Two Islands Weekend camp was a little different. People came from all backgrounds and professions. There were foreign aid workers and lawyers, photographers and communications types. Many said they simply needed a break from work and the city. 
"Toronto is a great city, but sometimes living in the city can be a little exhausting and draining," Goldfinger says. "A lot of people work a lot, and work really hard." 

I didn't realize how much I needed to get away until I was sitting in a canoe in the middle of the lake listening to loons call and staring at a canopy of tall, old trees. Instead of skyscrapers and condo construction, I looked around and I saw beauty and nature. The water was calm and the air was crisp. Chipmunks ran around the grounds as we walked from our cabins to the mess hall where meals were served and the coffee was always hot. I had been working on a story before I left for the weekend that I'd been stuck on for a few days, but something about being at Two Islands inspired me.
When I returned to Toronto, I reached out to Tash Jefferies, a workplace expert and "lifestyle cheerleader," to find out why. She says it all boils down to rejuvenation.

"When you take a break, you actually get back to the creativity and problem solving of your job because you step away," she says. She knows getting away isn't always possible, so if you want that feeling of peace and rejuvenation that comes from escaping the city without actually leaving the city, Jefferies has a few tips. 
"I recommend getting to know your body. Knowing your body and knowing when you're stressed out and honouring it by going outside, going for a walk, drinking a glass of water, and then coming back when your body has calmed down. If I could get people to understand how to do that it would make a huge difference in dealing with stress in the workplace," she says.
Goldfinger spent the past year planning Two Islands Weekend by herself while taking lots of deep breaths. The bulk of the organizing was done on her own time before work or late at night after her young son had gone to sleep. She visited numerous camps before deciding on Timberlane, a decision made in part because they were open-minded and offered to help with the programming. But most trying was labouring over every detail, especially the food. She was worried if people didn't enjoy the food it would dampen, if not ruin, the weekend. While at camp, she worried there wouldn't be enough food.
"Food is a big part of my life and also is a big part of my professional life. I feel it is very important to stand behind every element of an event whether I'm having a party at my house or having a party professionally," Goldfinger says. She struggled briefly to get chefs involved in the camp, but found many connections through her work at the Stop Community Centre. Among them was Kristina Groeger, a recipe editor for Loblaw, and food activist and local chef Joshna Maharaj (who has been featured on Yonge Street before). 
"I also have a very strong interest in local and sustainable food; food that doesn't just taste good but is good for you and for the earth. I wanted to make sure that element of the event was representative of my personal and professional beliefs," Goldfinger says.
Initially, Goldfinger said she wasn't sure if the event was going to happen again simply because planning it took a lot of time and dedication. It was a labour of love, not an initiative for profit. Campers paid $300 a piece, which included cabins, meals, snacks, activities, and an open bar. However, after an outpouring of support and interest from people wanting to get involved, it looks like Two Islands Weekend will return next year as a more collaborative effort.
"The thing that surprised me is I was really excited about this idea, but I had no way of knowing if other people were going to be excited about it," she says. "Then there was this moment when everyone was singing at the bonfire and I was like, this is working. I didn't know if it was going to. I think maybe sometimes we're a bit uptight in Toronto, so I was excited to see how easily people shed that."

Sheena Lyonnais is Yonge Street's managing editor.
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