Youth attending the Anglican Memorial Camp at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba hold up a bucket of water to prevent it from spilling as part of a team activity. The Diocese of Brandon, working with the Bear Clan Patrol, is inviting children affected by a recent fire in the city of Brandon to attend the camp for free this summer.

After the Brandon fire: Diocese, Indigenous partners, and donors offer week at camp to kids

In the wake of a massive fire, the Diocese of Brandon is inviting every child affected by the fire to attend its Anglican Memorial Camp this summer free of charge. The fire tore through downtown Brandon over the May long weekend, destroying three commercial buildings and causing severe damage to a multi-floor apartment complex.

The diocese had received a generous donation earlier that same weekend to support the camp. In a conversation with the donor, Bishop William Cliff suggested using the gift to fund bursaries to send children impacted by the fire to camp. The donor offered enthusiastic approval.

“This is really what the church is about,” Bishop Cliff said. “We want to reach out and offer what we have in ways that we can to these people who’ve been affected so horribly by this fire.

“There’s a lot of trauma, young children being taken out of their homes, and we don’t know when people will be back in the building. […] The smoke and the water damage is extensive in the apartments that weren’t damaged by the fire, and then the upper floors have been damaged by the fire, so it’s going to be a longer process. […] I thought, well, why don’t we offer the kids a chance to go to camp as a way of getting away from the trauma?”

The Diocese of Brandon offers four different camp experiences in July at its Anglican Memorial Camp located in Riding Mountain National Park. Its three full-week camps are divided by age group, with children 8-10 attending junior camp, youth 10-12 attending intermediate camp, and those 13 or older attending teen camp. An additional family camp is available for parents or grandparents to attend with their children or grandchildren for up to three days.

Typical activities include canoeing, swimming, games, and conversations about a topic of the week, with a chapel located onsite. The camp is run by volunteers such as the Rev. Cheryl Kukurudz, executive assistant to the bishop and dean and camp registrar, who helped lead the teen camp for many years.

“Out of this tragic event, it’s nice to be able to open ourselves up as we’re supposed to do in the mission of the church and invite people to come,” Kukurudz said.

To help organize efforts to invite children from the Massey Manor apartment complex damaged in the fire to attend camp, the diocese is working with the Bear Clan Patrol, a volunteer social service organization that supports Indigenous communities in Brandon and Winnipeg.

Partnering with the Bear Clan Patrol

Members of the Bear Clan patrol downtown areas and provide help to marginalized people they encounter, offering food and items such as coats and blankets in winter or socks and bottled water in the summer. The organization is primarily run by a group of local Indigenous women.

Dean Don Bernhardt, himself a Bear Clan member, is serving as a liaison between the church and Bear Clan as the latter head up efforts to speak with families and determine who might be interested in attending the camp.

He noted that the Bear Clan has an existing relationship with residents of Massey Manor. Many of the women who lead the Bear Clan work in social service jobs and know some of the residents through their own work, while others might encounter them during their regular patrols.

“The Bear Clan has a lot of that in-depth knowledge of who’s who at Massey, so that’s the reason that they got involved in it,” Bernhardt said. “Plus they’re seen as a very non-threatening group of people that aren’t looking to evangelize or anything like that. They’re just there to help.”

He hoped that children who choose to attend the Anglican Memorial Camp enjoy the chance to “have fun, decompress a little bit, and recognize that there are people in this community that care about them.”

“They’ve already had some of that, because the outpouring of support that they’ve had since this fire has been phenomenal,” Bernhardt said. “But I want them to understand, and I think the community wants them to understand, that we want to provide support—not just a one-time [gesture of sympathy], but [that] we’re all in this together, and we want everyone to flourish as much as possible.”

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