There is nowhere in the world like Camp Naivelt. Established in 1925 as the summer children’s camp by the Jewish Women’s Labour League, it’s since evolved to become a secluded summer community in the heart of Brampton, ON (of all places!). With a long history of leftist activism, Jewish culture and arts and music, Naivelt today continues to be a hotbed of community building and creativity — and also a summer retreat for Making Room Community Arts!
While continuing to do our summer programming in Parkdale, Making Room was honoured to be invited to produce the yearly Art Week at Camp Naivelt during the first week of August. Nodding to its overlap with the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and the long-held annual tradition of a social justice themed Peace Tea at Naivelt, we chose to name the week Peace Camp.
Throughout the week, we ran morning workshops on the porches of The Ritz, a strange and underused building with screen porches and showers. We made paper lanterns, punched tin medallions, dyed fabric and discussed our personal memories and vision for peace in the world.
As we spoke more intimately with people at Naivelt across generations, we became fascinated with the way that values and memories are shared between members of a community. We found that even the youngest children would tell us about Pete Seeger playing songs around the fire, that people would recall stories about people they’d never met, and that the cabins people stayed in housed histories that reached far beyond one family. We realized that the question we were after was:
How do we experience, hold, and share memories that aren’t our own?
Throughout the week, lead artist Jess Shane took to gathering stories and memories from Naivelters through audio recordings, travelling around the camp in a story tent. While she did this, Making Room Artists and participantscontinued to create objects and images to tell the story of Peace Camp, including workshops by Naivelters Shlomit, Nicole and Mika.
By Thursday, the camp had been fully activated by the art being made there, and the arrival of four of our core members from the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre created at atmosphere of excitement and momentum. Naivelters, Making Room artists and PARC members all gathered that evening in the Peace Garden to hear from Naivelt elders about the history of the space and of peace activism at Naivelt.
From there, we processed to the river. Children dangled strings of origami cranes ahead of the crowd, followed by adults bearing round paper lanterns. Upon arriving to the water, we listened to a reading of the poem “Everyone With Lungs” by Juliana Spahr, before ceremonially lighting the lanterns on fire and sending them down the watter as we sang “Down By The Riverside” and “We Shall Overcome”.
Grounded by this ceremony, the next few days were a furor of creation and preparation leading up to our Peace Camp procession on Saturday. Fabric was dyed and cut into bunting, medallions and lanterns were strung and hung, and songs were rehearsed.
It felt like everyone at Naivelt that night was there on Saturday night, joining in hot chocolate and singing around the fire, with special choir performances led by Shifra Cooper and drumming led by PARC member leader Shelley La Hay.
Using the audio recordings gathered throughout the week and the beautiful imagery and puppets artists and participants had created, “It Takes A Table” was born. The seven minute show speaks to the way the nomadic furniture of Naivelt can be seen to represent the unique dynamism and communal values of the place. You can watch the video here:
It’s not often Making Room works so far from Parkdale, but our PARC members and new friends at Naivelt showed us that there’s plenty of common ground. We’d like to send a big thank you to everybody involved— Camp Naivelt, PARC member-artists Alice and John Rogers, Shelley La Hay and Marlene Sheehan Carey, and our amazing artistic team: Michael Burtt, Shifra Cooper, Jess Shane, Jonathan Valelly, volunteers Callen Froese, Danae Froese, and Patrick Peachey Higdon. We’d also like to thank Marc Tremblay and MABELLEarts’ Leah Houston for their support throughout the week, as well as key helpers from Naivelt: the Bennett-Bakan family, Shlomit and many others.
Thank you to Catherine Moeller, Nicole Bennett and Jess Shane for the photography you see in this post.
See you next summer!