Starting the Camp – Bert Fine

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Forest Valley Day Camp was the started in 1956 by Bertram David Fine,. At the time, Bert was a physical education teacher at Forest Hill C.I. in Toronto.

This is the story of how Bert got involved in camping and how Forest Valley Day Camp came to be:

 

Camp New Moon

Bert’s camping experience began in the early 1950’s while visiting New Moon Lodge in Baysville, Ontario. He became friends with the owner, Charlie Simpson and they both believed that it was an ideal location for a camp.  Charlie asked Bert to be the director of Camp New Moon. Bert, in turn, asked Al Goodman and Lou Glait to help him.  They hired Barry Lowes (who founded Camp Timberlane in 1958) as a supervisor.

While considering camp options for his 5 year-old son, Bert felt that he was too young for Camp New Moon, but thought there should be a way for him to experience camping in the city before actually going away from home. With no such opportunities available, Bert thought about opening his own day camp. The day camp concept was novel at the time. It is uncertain whether Bathurst Manor was the first day camp in Canada, however Bert received an award for this in 1980.

 

“Bert Fine Camp”

Bert’s wife Adalyn had been running activities in the back yard with their own children and children of their friends and neighbors.   In the summer of 1954, Bert started his own camp in the back yard.   The first summer,  28 children attended the camp known simply as “Bert Fine Camp”.

Word spread quickly and enrolment increased.  After the second summer in 1955, Bert was feeling the stress of commuting back and forth from Camp New Moon. Adalyn suggested that he should look for a property in the city and start his own camp.  Bert put his feelers out.  Not long after, Bert’s friend Stan Leibel called and said, “Bert, I have the perfect place for your camp”.  Bert and Addy went  to look at this  beautiful, undeveloped property adjacent to a residential area known as Bathurst Manor, just north of the Toronto city limits.

The site was perfect, but the price was high – around $40,000.  Bert already had part-ownership in Camp New Moon and did not think he could afford the valley property.  Adalyn was persistent however and brought her father to look at the property.  Her father was impressed and thought that Bert could really make something out of this beautiful spot. He agreed to lend Bert the money to buy the land.

 

Initial Construction

First to be constructed in 1956 were the A-Frames, I-Pool, Nurse’s Office Building and an Office. The survey below from 1958 shows these buildings:

1958 Survey

This is the original office, located to the east of the I-Pool. When the new office was built, this building was used for storage:

old office

Bert consulted his friend, architect  Mandel Sprachman and he visited the site in 1956.  They referred to the whole camp idea as “Fine’s Folly” as shown in this letter from Bert following the visit:

Construction Letter Nov 1956 from Bert 2

 

Bathurst Manor Day Camp

In 1956,  Bathurst Manor Day Camp was founded and  advertising began.  Lou Glait came from New Moon to help Bert.

The first brochure was a simple black and white foldout.  Each camper received a camp t-shirt.

A big feature of the camp was door to door transportation.  Initially, a combination of TTC and private vehicles were used.  Bert contracted with each driver individually.  ( In the 80’s, the camp began using Laidlaw Transit exclusively.  This provided better service and communication with drivers via radio.)

Lunches and snacks were provided each day. Ernie Fireman was hired as camp chef and developed the menu which included his famous veal cutlets.

A swimming pool was built – later to be known as the “I” pool.  A locker room/office (later the nurse’s office), kitchen, and an open-air A-Frame/Lunchroom were also built.  For information on construction, click HERE.  The T-Pool and I-learners were constructed prior to the 1959 season to support an enrolment of 400 campers (and a waiting list of 200).  In 1960, enrolment grew to over 600 campers.

Within a few years, Bert was able to repay the load from his father-in-law.

In order to generate additional revenue, Bert offered membership in a Swim Club which allowed the facility to be used in the evenings and weekends.  Deck chairs and refreshment stands were added.

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Back Row L-R: Unknown, Domenic Parravano, Unknown.   Front Row L-R: Fiorino Parravano, Unknown, Meyer Fine, Ernie Fireman, Bert Fine, Flash

Purchase of Camp New Moon

In 1959, Bert purchased Camp New Moon with fellow teacher Al Goodman in order to provide a destination for his campers ready to move on to overnight camp.  However, the day camp business was proving to be a huge success on its own.  Shortly after the purchase, Bert decided it was best to sell his share to Al to focus on his own camp. He maintained a relationship with Al and Camp New Moon throughout the years and developed a program wherein Bathurst Manor campers could experience overnight camp by visiting Camp New Moon for one week.  This program proved very popular and continued to be a part of Forest Valley’s program.  Based on the popularity of this concept, other day camps began to create similar associations with overnight camps.   The demand was so great  Camp White Pine was added to the mix in the 1980’s and Camp Timberlane was added in the 1990’s.

 

The 1960’s – Increasing Enrollment / New Facilities

Enrollment continued to grow through the early 1960’s and additional facilities were required.  The “Muppet” unit area was enhanced with cabin buildings and playground equipment – including a giant red slide.  A tennis court and paddle-ball wall were also built.  A new brochure was designed.

In 1964, an ambitious construction project was undertaken.  This included the auditorium, fireplace area and the Terrace (with a kitchen for the swim club).  In 1971, another building was added to the complex which became the camp office.  Around this time the parking lot was paved and the “Central Supply” building was built.  When the Auditorium was built, a full kitchen/snack bar was built – “The Oasis.” There was a plan to build a pool on the treehouse field for the exclusive use of the swim club, but this plan never evolved.

Bert obtained a stagecoach and a horse carousel which was the impetus for beginning a pony riding program across the river.

 

Fiorino Parravano

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Fiorino Parravano

Fio was head of the maintenance staff. He was responsible for building most of the structures at camp. Fio died suddenly at camp in the early 70’s while preparing the pools for the summer. He was found unconscious in the boys locker room and could not be revived. His son, Domenic later assumed his role.

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Domenic “Donny” Parravano

 

Ski Club

In 1965, using fill excavated for the Spadina Expressway, Bert constructed a ski hill on the western edge of the valley.  The fill was essentially free and created yet another source of revenue – this time during the winter months.  The program was run as a private “club” due to zoning regulations, but anyone could join. A ski lift was built and the operation continued through the 1970’s when the land at the top of the hill was sold for development. Bert continued to own several lots at the top of the hill until the late 1990’s.

 

Outdoor Education

in 1967, Bert approached the North York Board of Education with the idea of an Outdoor Education Program at Forest Valley.  The board accepted the idea and entered into an annual leasing agreement that continued until the property was sold to the city.  The program continues to operate today.  It is a little known fact that Bert’s initiative actually started the Outdoor Education concept.

 

Conflict with Neighbour / Closing Rumours

Beginning in 1969, a neighbour began a series of complaints regarding the legality of the camp operation in the valley.  An injunction was won in 1969 which would have closed the camp, but fortunately it was overturned.  In response to the publicity surrounding the case, Bert placed an ad in the Toronto Star communicating the fact that the camp was still operating and not closed or sold.  Another such rumour in the early 80’s forced similar action.

 

1970’s

Enrolment was strong throughout the 70’s.  Another brochure was designed featuring a new logo.  Tennis Camp was launched in association with Wingfields Tennis Club.  The program was later moved to Mayfair Tennis Club.

 

1980’s

In 1986, Bert sold the valley property to the City and negotiated a 7 year lease for the camp.
Bert’s daughter, Jennifer Fine Pezim, had a long-standing desire to run the business.  In 1984, she began to shadow Bert in order to learn the business.    Jennifer was just starting a family at the time and Bert – knowing how much time was required away from home –  tried to discourage Jennifer from the idea.   Nevertheless, she remained committed to her goal and in the fall of 1986, Jennifer bought the business.  She wanted to give her dad his retirement and watch him enjoy his later years.   She made sure that Bert had an office on site so he could still feel a part of camp and participate any time he wanted.  Bert remained involved on a daily basis for a couple years, but eventually eased away.  His role became one of figurehead.  He didn’t come in every day, but when he did he liked to give tractor rides and enjoyed  having  fun with the campers and staff.
Jennifer’s philosophy was to increase enrolment in order to give more children the opportunity to be “fine campers”. No more wait list!  She added many more cabins and staff, putting together a strong team to guide her. Jay Kahane was her Assistant Director.  He was hired by Bert in 1981 as a counsellor and later was a Photography Specialist, Program Director and Transportation Director.  Bert was a mentor to Jay and imparted to him many of his camping philosophies.
By 1989 Forest Valley had the largest enrolment in the history of camping in Canada.

 

1990’s

Largest privately owned day camp in Canada.  Enrolment peaked at 960 campers.

 

Closing

1993 was the final year of the lease agreement with the City of North York. Jennifer was committed to renewing the lease, however the city was unwilling to do so.