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Do you remember Algoma Music Camp?

This week Remember This looks back at a long-running program that started in 1964

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

The Algoma Music Camp started with the dream of Edgar and Katherine Gartshore, who wanted to establish an environment where young musicians could learn from an excellent musical faculty in Northern Ontario.

The Gartshores were already well-established in Sault Ste. Marie’s music community: Edgar was one of the founders of the local Kiwanis Music festival, and Katherine was a respected pianist and cellist. Together, they owned The Gartshore Music Store, performed, and taught music classes. With their drive to succeed and extensive contacts with professional musicians, they would turn their dream of a local music camp into a reality.

The camp was initially held in the summer of 1964 at Camp Pauwating, a property at Island Lake owned by the YMCA. Lasting for a week in August, the initial goal of the music camp was to encourage youth to continue their musical training through high school; a brochure from the program’s first year noted that because of homework demands, many students dropped out of music education.

Algoma Music Camp secured as teachers prominent figures in the local music scene. In their first year, under the direction of Joe Deike, the instructors included Frank Elliot, Tony Gartshore, Kurt Kunzel, Gerry Rogers, Dave Warner-Smith, and Jim Whicher. Classes during that first year focused on vocals, piano, strings, and band instruments.

During the inaugural year, tuition was set at the price of $15 for the week.

In later years, the program would grow to include instruction in more musical instruments and even include dance instruction. The camp would also bring in teachers from further afield, including international music professionals.

Initially, the camp operated as a day camp, with the caveat that camp officials would work out accommodations for any out-of-towners who wished to attend. Generally, students travelled to and from the camp daily, by bus. As time went on, the camp also offered options for students to stay on the grounds, sleeping in cabins; this overnight option attracted the most serious of students, who would spend the first three hours of the day independently practicing before the other day students arrived. As well, in later years, the camp would expand to take place over two weeks.

The daily schedules consisted of, to name a few activities, theory lessons, instrument study, individual practice, ensemble and choir practice, and non-musical recreational activities. Students also worked towards a public performance, held at the end of the week. The Sault Star noted that attendees at the camp were “so dedicated to their art that often during free time, they [would] wander off to make music rather than participate in some other activity.”

Camp secretary Norma McWilliams noted that the students were intent on improving their craft, and that “having fun . . . [was] a side issue.”

Attendees consisted of music students of a variety of ages, determined to receive more serious music instruction. In a 1979 Sault Star interview, director Ed Gartshore noted a major draw was the promise of individual instruction: students received multiple private lessons from high-quality teachers.

And the students were nothing if not enthusiastic. Families described the camp as “the frosting on the cake,” and the reason “why they [practiced] all year.” It was a chance to connect with other musically-minded children and to hone their craft.

The Algoma Music Camp also had a year-round initiative, in the form of their Youth Orchestra, which was selected to participate in the 1976 Canadian Festival of Youth Orchestras in Banff, Alberta.

In 1978, when the property at Camp Pauwating was sold, the Algoma Music Camp moved to St. Joseph Island. The new property offered 50 acres of space, melding music with nature. A Sault Star article on the topic described how “acres of fields [sprawled] from the hill to cradle a winding creek. The students [nestled] among the haystacks, [perched] on large boulders, or [leaned] against the nearest shade tree to practice their instruments.”

The construction of the new camp was no small feat. Algoma Music Camp had received a Wintario grant for the process and fundraised extensively — including donations from the American Federation of Musicians and Algoma Steel. The new location featured a kitchen and dining complex, dormitories, and a barn-turned-concert hall.

Over the years, the camp’s reputation and offerings continued to grow. The Gartshore family remained a driving force behind Algoma Music Camp, with numerous family members running, teaching at, or advocating for the program.

The camp continued to run into 2014, when a new strategic plan pushed for an expansion in service under music director Tony Gartshore. Gartshore hoped to renovate many of the buildings, add a jazz program, and run music instruction for eight weeks out of the year. He described the place as “magical” and spoke to the power of studying music in a professional, serious environment.

Gartshore also noted that, while most attendees did not pursue careers as professional musicians, several alumni certainly did. According to the Sault Star, the camp saw many successful Sault Ste. Marie musicians pass through its halls, including violist David Wadley, violinist Janet Horne, and pianist Leah Dominy.

However, the goal of a bigger, lasting camp was not to be. Algoma Music Camp ended in 2014. Seed funds from the camp, however, helped to launch a new initiative: the Great Lakes International Summer Music Institute, run through the Algoma Conservatory and Algoma University.

Today, the old Algoma Music Camp site on St. Joseph Island is home to AlgomaTrad; the organization initially used the facilities in 2004, while Algoma Music Camp was still running. They have continued the tradition of hosting a summer camp on the property.

Algoma Music Camp may be no more, but its legacy lives on through the passion it helped instill in young, musical minds.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here