Bolton Camp

Bolton Camp property in the spring of 1922. The clubhouse that was part of the former Cold Creek Trout Club is at the rear, right. AC Report 2011. TRCA Collection.


Rotary Camp for boys in 1922. Toronto Star Photo Archives.


  • Early in 1922, the Neighbourhood Worker’s Association (NWA), based in downtown Toronto, purchased 100 acres along Cold Creek, east of Bolton, from the Cold Creek Trout Club 1
  • The NWA’s plan was to operate a summer, fresh air camp providing a summer holiday experience for low-income mothers with small children, as well as older boys and girls 2
  • The location was selected because of the proximity to Toronto and the existence of a large but old, three-storey clubhouse which meant that the camp could start up operations very quickly 3 
  • Fresh air camps differed from private camps in that they were not conceived as rustic outdoors experiences but rather as part of the larger, social service work in Ontario and as part of the effort to reduce urban poverty 4
  • Social and health initiatives not part of the campers home life were to be introduced as part of an overall learning experience at camp
  • The NWA set up a committee to organize and run the camp.  Dubbed the Bolton Camp Committee, the Chairman was Rev. Peter Bryce who was interested in the welfare of the poor, many of whom were Scottish and English immigrants 5
  • In 1922, Year 1 of the camp, the large hillside clubhouse was converted into dormitories and dining areas for all who attended camp.  The building was renamed Hastings Lodge 6
    • Bolton Camp could house 160 mothers and small children per session
    • The Rotary Club of Toronto donated Rotary Camp, a facility with sleeping quarters and indoor space for older boys in these families. Tents were set up with additional beds
    • That first summer, 1004 mothers and children came to Bolton Camp.  The fresh air camp was a huge success
Sherbourne Camp in the late 1920s. Note the English Tudor style of the buildings. TRCA Collection.


  • In 1926, the first cottages were built tucked away on hillsides overlooking the stream.  One of these, named Yellow Briar Lodge, was provided by Peel Junior Institute 7
    • The extensive building programme evolved side-by-side with the beautification of the camp grounds
    • Starting in this year, the camp employed a full time gardener 8
  • In 1927, development began at Sherbourne Camp, a separate camp for older girls, ages 11 to 16, through the generosity of Sherbourne House Chapter of the I.O.D.E.  This became the fourth section within the Bolton Camp framework 9
  • In 1931, Rotary Hall was built, becoming the largest building on the Bolton Camp site.  It was used as a general assembly hall for the whole camp
The new Hastings Lodge in 1924, shortly after its construction as well as the early swimming ‘tank’.


Postcard showing New Hastings Lodge circa 1924. The card was mailed in 1926. McFall Family Collection.
New Hastings Lodge
Yellow Briar Lodge


Making up beds at Rotary Camp in 1922. The cookery building is in the background, right. AC Report 2011. TRCA Collection.


Camp Howell under construction in 1923, before the half-timbered exterior treatment was completed. Note the array of early automobiles.


  • In 1923, Camp Howell was added for mothers and young children.  It became the third section within the overall Bolton Camp structure 10
  • Unfortunately Hastings Lodge burned down near the end of the second camp season 11
  • The high interest in the camp experience and the loss of the large clubhouse resulted n a large-scale development plan for the camp.  Chaired by Walter Davidson, a Toronto contractor who donated his time and efforts, the building committee created the vision for Bolton Camp, one that evolved under his guidance until the 1940s 12
  • It was determined that all new buildings would be built in English Tudor style.  They would be set on beautifully maintained grounds, planted with lawns and dotted with trails, a stark contrast to the neighbourhoods where campers lived 13
  • In 1924, a new Hastings Lodge was built with ground floor sleeping areas 14
    • This provided much safer sleeping quarters than the third floor dorms
    • An outdoor ‘swimming tank’, donated by a Mrs. Dunlop, provided bathing facilities, an upgrade from a previous arrangement fed directly by the aptly named Cold Creek
Postcard of Camp Howell. Date unknown.


Rotary Hall, built in 1931, part of Rotary Camp for boys. It was the largest building within Bolton Camp. ABHS Collection.


  • In 1932, a dining hall was built for children ages 5 to 6, as well as one for children requiring high-chairs
    • In addition, at mealtimes, mothers could leave young infants in the care of a nurse at the camp’s Medical Centre at Hastings Lodge, while all other children enjoyed mealtime with kids their own ages in age-specific dining halls
    • These arrangements allowed mothers some time on their own during meals
  • The NWA expanded the camp property with the purchase of an additional 84 acres 
  • In 1936, a Kindergarten building, financed by Toronto Kindergarten Association, made it possible to develop programmes for younger kids from both Camp Howell and Hastings Lodge
Sherbourne Camp swimming tank. ABHS Collection.


Rotary Camp swimming pool. ABHS Collection.


An aerial view of Bolton Camp 1932. Toronto Star Photo Archives.


Rotary Hall and pool 1930s
  • In 1937, Bolton Camp purchased 55 adjacent acres on the north side for the expansion of Sherbourne Camp for girls
    • Ten cabins were moved to the new property and Sherbourne House Chapter (I.O.D.E.) financed a girls’ recreation hall
    • A brick dwelling on the site was converted to a Craft Shop
  • By 1938, there were 169 buildings on the Bolton Camp property, all but one planned and constructed by Walter Davidson 15.  An additional 43 acres of pasture were purchased.
  • In 1947, the final purchase of 60 additional acres of land
  • By the end of the 1952 season, 125,616 mothers and children had attended Bolton Camp
  • By 1954, Bolton Camp consisted of 342 acres of rolling well-treed land, interspersed with small streams 16
    • Hurricane Hazel caused $250,000 in damage
  • By 1958, the building tally was 100 screened-in cabins, 10 dining rooms and 70 other recreation buildings along with 3 outdoor swimming pools
Rotary Camp in 1941. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
Off to Camp in the 1930s. Local vehicles of every description helped transport families to Bolton Camp from the Bolton train station. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
  • Over the years, funding for Bolton Camp came from myriad donations: individuals, groups, churches, businesses and foundations.  Beyond those already noted in the text, others were from:
    • Joseph Atkinson
    • The Atkinson Foundation
    • The United Appeal
    • Toronto Star Annual Fresh Air Fund drive
  • Camp counsellors volunteered their time, as did multitudes of others, to support the camp
  • In 1962, NWA changed its name to Family Service Association of Metropolitan Toronto
  • Between 1968 and 1971, many buildings at the camp were replaced with modern pre-built structures while some of the original cabins were sold and moved away
    • The Bolton Conference Centre was built at this time on the northern part of the property
  • In the late 1960s, two fires destroyed buildings
  • In 1991, an ‘adventure-based learning centre’ was opened in the camp
  • In 1999, the camp closed its doors
  • In 2000, a 60-acre portion of the property was sold to a development company called Hi-lands of Bolton
  • The remaining 279 acres were sold to the Toronto Montessori Schools before being bought in 2006 by Hi-Lands of Bolton, whereupon it sat vacant and unused
  • Dishes, plates, posters, craft materials, and more, sat upon the shelves where they were left while the camp buildings deteriorated
  • In 2011, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority acquired Bolton Camp 17
Postcard of Camp Howell, circa 1940s. ABHS Collection.


Young performers in the Kindergarten Building at Bolton Camp. TRCA Collection.


Kindergarten Building as seen in 2011. Photo taken for TRCA.


Boys at play in Cold Creek which flows through Bolton Camp. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
Toronto children lining up at a Koolaid Stand in support of Bolton Camp. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
RIng around… Teenage volunteer counsellors with their very young campers, 1971. Toronto Star Photo Archives- Ron Bull photographer.


Camp activities circa early 1950s. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
Dining Hall within Bolton Camp, circa late 1920s. Toronto Star Photo Archives.
True Davidson visiting Sherbourne Camp, probably while she was Mayor of East York between 1966-1972. Toronto Star Photo Archives- Bob Olsen photographer.
Mr. F.N. Stapleford, Bolton Camp Committee executive member and author of numerous articles on the role of social work in the community. Region of Peel Archives. Bolton Coronation Women’s Institute fond.


Campers peering closely at a snake. Toronto Star Photo Archives-Norman James photographer.
Group of campers in 1971. Toronto Star Photo Archives- Ron Bull photographer.
Dr. Peter Bryce, Chair of the Bolton Camp Committee (Neighbourhood Workers Association) set up in 1922. Dr. Bryce advocated for marginalized groups within Toronto, was Moderator of the United Church of Canada 1936-1938 and later became General Secretary of what is now the United Way of Canada. Region of Peel Archives, Bolton Coronation Women’s Institute fond.

Who physically looked after the camp? 18

  • In 1922, Roger Pilson Sr was hired as Bolton Camp’s first caretaker and he served for the balance of that year
  • In 1923, Hartley Byrnes took over.  When he married his wife Rita in 1928, the camp built a home for the Byrnes family
  • Hartley was responsible for hiring both the year-round staff as well as the summer staff, with as many as 30 people employed preparing the grounds and buildings for the arrival of families to the camp.  By 1938, when the camp had grown to 169 buildings, Hartley’s role had evolved to what today would be called Facility Manager
  • Hartley retired in 1950 and his position was assumed by his brother-in-law, Harold Bishop 


Camp Director 19

  • Beginning in 1924 and continuing until some time after 1954, Mildred Collver served as Camp Director
  • She was the sister-in-law of Mr. F.N. Stapleford, an executive member of the NWA.  Mr. Stapleford wrote numerous published articles on the role of Social Work

Details from the 1952 Bolton Camp Annual Report

  • Bolton Camp accommodates 925 campers per session, exclusive of staff
  • 2914 mothers and children spent a 12-day session at Bolton Camp
  • Between 1922 and 1952, a total of 125,616 mothers and children have stayed at the camp
  • 99 young people volunteered as counsellors
  • Camp operations are paid for primarily through donations with some contributions from campers
  • The cost per 12-day session, including food and transportation, is $36.21
  • The campers and staff consumed:
    • 10747 lbs.. of meat
    • 11149 loaves of bread
    • 5650 lbs. of sugar
    • 2438 lbs. of rolled oats and cereals
    • 2850 lbs. of margarine
    • 11160 quarts of ice cream
      • Plus: milk, fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, eggs, cheese etc
  • There is no indebtedness against the property, buildings, equipment and water system 20

Bolton Camp Land Aquisition

DateAcreageLot #, Albion TwpDescriptionValue
1922100 acresLot 8 W1/2, Con 8former Toronto Trout Club, former Wolfe farm$11,500
193384 acresLot 9 SW pt, Con 8Samuel Fuller Farm (funds from A&P stores)$2,400
193755 acresLot 9 pt E1/2, Con 8Max Dobrow pig farm (sale via 3rd party)$1
193843 acresLot 10 SE pt, Con 8Geo. Bowes pasture farm$975
194760 acresLot 9 pt E1/2, Con 7William Henderson pasture farm$2,250
  1. On-line Land records, Albion Township, Lot 8, Concession 8
  2. Architectural Conservancy of Ontario,  Independent Evaluation of the Bolton Fresh Air Camp, Preservation Works! Programme, November 2011, pg. 1
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.
  5. Coronation Women’s Institute in Bolton (CWI), Tweedsmuir History, 1954, article contributed by Collena Wilson. An ordained Methodist minister, Dr. Bryce would later become Moderator of the United Church of Canada 
  6. CWI
  7. CWI
  8. Architectural Conservancy, pg.5
  9. CWI
  10. Architectural Conservancy, pg.2
  11. CWI
  12. Architectural Conservancy, pg.4
  13. ibid., pg. 4-5
  14. CWI
  15. Architectural Conservancy, pg.4
  16. CWI
  17. Coolearth Architecture Inc Report, pg.11-12
  18. CWI
  19. ibid.
  20. CWI