Family seated posing for a picture on a campsite in teh 70s with a big orange tent in the background

Sparking memories with tent nostalgia

Today’s post comes from Rachel DeGreef, Project and Communications Assistant with Ontario Parks. 

We can all agree that the smell of a campfire and fresh pine can bring us back to our fondest camping memories.

Science tells us that olfactory senses are the strongest memories we have. John Leadston, Project Manager at Arrowhead Provincial Park, shares that “the smell of that canvas [tent] takes me back to a place I would return to in a heartbeat.”

Camper Jane Lever agrees with this sentiment. She writes, “That smell of canvas will always remain in our memories as being associated with lots of fun times, the odd scary thunderstorm, and many adventures through quite a few Ontario Parks.”

The big orange tent

When a call went out to find a 1970s tent for the Ontario Parks 125th anniversary exhibits and events, Jane and Jack Lever were quick to pull their tent out of storage!

You may have seen the tent on Breakfast Television in June, CHCH Morning Live in July, and you will see it again at the Algonquin Time Capsule event in August.

Here’s the story behind this (now renowned) fifty-year-old tent, and some other fond camping memories that sparked from our talk of 1970s camping equipment!

A family camping tradition begins

The story of the tent begins in the summer of 1967, when newlyweds Jane and Jack purchased a tent of their very own: the orange tourist tent.

Family of three, posing in the 70s with an orange backdrop (orange tent)

Following that purchase, the tent stood through many of their fondest summer camping memories with their growing family.

Jane and Jack’s first night with the tourist tent was at Grundy Lake Provincial Park, where it rained all night long. It was recommended that they soak the tent before camping – but they had not.

Luckily, there wasn’t a single drop of rain in the tent the next morning! Jane said, “It is made of good quality canvas and served us well.”

Starting a family of campers

Pictured below is Jane and Jack’s firstborn, Bill. The first time the Levers took him camping was Canada Day weekend in 1971 – and he turned out to be a great little camper.

This was the beginning of the Levers’ growing family – soon after, Billy had two younger siblings arrive.

Three kids, engaged in activity, in a meal tent in the 70s

Looking back on some great times

John Leadston has a similar memory which surfaces every time he catches a whiff of damp canvas. John describes his family borrowing a Woods tent from friends to go camping at Arrowhead the first year it opened in 1971.

Young boy laying down in a sleeping bag, playing a board game
John Leadston playing a board game called “Algonquin Voyageurs” in Algonquin Provincial Park in 1973

At only five years old, John was determined to help with the tent – but since it was quite heavy, he was only given the job of rolling it up. John recalls the overnight rain while inside the tent; his dad would tell him, “don’t touch the sides,” but curiosity usually won out.

“It was a good thing we were on cots and that the river flowing down the wall beside me headed right towards the door!” recalls John.

Colman lantern with vintage cooler in the foreground with big orange tent in the background

Forty years later, when John stepped back into a similar tent made of canvas, he was immediately struck by the smell. Memories of his childhood came flooding back – the rain, the scurry of chipmunks. It was like stepping into a family photo album from over forty years ago.

A precious reminder

Today, the Levers’ tent is clearly worn. It has seen many bright and sunny days, and has been a source of protection from the rain and storms across many provincial park visits. The tent has witnessed many memories being made and continues to spark memories of days gone by.

Thank-you to the Levers for generously donating this tent for Ontario Parks’ 125th anniversary celebrations.

Do you have memories of camping in canvas tents? Share your photos and memories with us using #OP125 on social media!