Thinking Out Loud

September 22, 2012

Remembering John Boddy

To the Toronto community at large John “Jack” Boddy was known for John Boddy Homes, which built subdivisions in an area stretching from the northeast portion of the city all the way to Peterborough.

But to the Christian community, his primary legacy is Muskoka Woods, a summer camp and year round retreat centre in Rosseau, Ontario approximately halfway between Bracebridge and Parry Sound.

Nearly sixty years ago, John married Marie McClintock, daughter of home builder Robert McClintock. As an engineer, he quickly learned the business, and followed a McClintock Homes tradition of donating a portion of land in each new subdivision to one or more churches, most of which were Evangelical.

He also supported a number of faith missions and local churches, but his story took a turn when his eldest daughter, Tammy, returned home from Teen Ranch a changed person.

When a proposal to turn Glen Rocks — a former Christian and Missionary Alliance resort and conference grounds — into a retirement complex failed to meet civic approval, Boddy purchased the land for a summer camp. Originally met by very restrictive zoning, he pressed on to winterize buildings — something not easily accomplished with cottages built on rocks — and begin the work of expanding and restoring buildings while applying for permission to build new structures, permission that was not always forthcoming.

But eventually the camp grew… and grew and grew. For a decade it adopted the moniker Muskoka Woods Sports Resort, eschewing the term ‘camper’ and replacing it with ‘guests.’  Today it’s simply Muskoka Woods, with a name that hardly needs introduction or explanation having served multiplied thousands of families, with guests including the sons and daughters of major sports figures and Hollywood stars; with people who once came as kids now bringing their children, and youth who once served on staff now having their teens serving as second-generation summer employees. The camp has 1,000 acres of property, and 2,000 feet of shoreline in an area considered among the top vacation destinations in North America.

For the respect and admiration he garnered, he was always referred to as “Mister Boddy,”  or “Mr. B.” and yet, the passion he had for the camp was not all that different from the awe and wonder experienced by the children arriving for the first time. With a Walt Disney-esque spirit, he is reported to have said that each year Muskoka Woods should offer some new “sizzle.”

On the retreat and conference side of the operation, a few years ago Muskoka Woods introduced The Leadership Studio, a posh facility with a development program for Christian leaders located at the east end of the beach, with accommodation connected by a foot bridge over a creek to the main property.

While his son Edward continues on the house construction business; just as John Boddy took the reins of a business begun by his father-in-law; today his own son-in-law (married to daughter Lori) John McAuley is CEO of the camp operation with a background that supplies healthy doses of spiritual and administrative leadership.  And that daughter whose visit to Teen Ranch sparked the Muskoka Woods dream holds a PhD in clinical psychology with a practice in central Florida.

John Boddy passed away a week ago today after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.  At his funeral yesterday, attended by about 500,  it was noted that although he forgot who he was and who others were and forgot he owned a business, he never forgot his God; such was the tenacity of his faith. Even in seasons of great confusion he was able to speak directly to people, encouraging one individual with the promise that her “best days were ahead.”  His wife Marie was presented with a binder containing stories of how the camp has impacted the lives of former staff and guests.

One of those is my story. Though never a summer camp type, I discovered another set of possibilities working at Muskoka Woods; and was introduced to Christian camping in general, through which I got to know other camps, including the one where I met the girl who became my wife.  For the last three summers our two boys have worked at that Christian camp and are seeing lives touched through their efforts.

It’s said that you can accomplish more in the life of a young person through one week at camp than at 52 weeks of Sunday School. While not wanting to minimize the latter, the fact remains that Christian camping is a most powerful ministry tool.

John Boddy was a great Canadian Christian leader with a reputation known throughout Canada’s largest province and beyond. Guests at his funeral were reminded that we need more like him. He will be greatly missed.

4 Comments »

  1. >> “a most powerful ministry tool”
    I agree. Preparing materials and programs for camps and working in them as senior female leader remains the highlight of my Christian ministry. A Christian camp, with its 24/7 connection with the young people, is a unique witnessing/teaching experience, giving close connections and insights not gained in years of weekly activities.

    What a shame that here in Australia Christian camps are becoming a thing of the past – at least for smaller Churches. The high insurance costs and the endless catering rules, with many certificates required, make the cost beyond the scope of most parents. A self-catered camp would cost $50-$100 for 5-6 days. Under present regulations, it would cost a minimum of $300.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — September 22, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

    • Actually $300 Canadian would be a bargain here for 6 days of residential camping. Perhaps only the more affluent can afford to do this now, but someone needs to provide this. Muskoka Woods actually positioned itself as “upscale” with the aim of attracting families that wouldn’t blink at the cost, but as they raised the bar, other camps followed suit. Families just need to put off buying a giant screen television and make this type of experience for their kids a priority. Parents sometimes justify the cost by taking their own vacation at the same time, and then they’re actually saving the money of having the kids travel with them. And in fairness, most of the Christian camps we know offer sponsorship programs for families that can’t afford to pay full fare.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 23, 2012 @ 8:33 am

      • I think Christian parents who understand the value of Christian camping would be willing to pay.

        The children we took to camps were from the midweek children’s ministry club and around 70-80% were from non-Christian, non-Church homes. The parents did not see the value of sending their children to camp – especially not when there were two or three or more children in the one family. It was a small Church running the large ministry, but many in the Church sponsored a child, asking parents to contribute only what it would normally cost to keep them at home – and many parents said they couldn’t afford anything.

        Another factor was that schools ran a holiday trip (read ‘education trip’) on a large scale, largely funded by fund raising activities, but still very costly, since domestic travel is very expensive here. Almost the whole school class/es went on that trip and of course, most kids (and their parents) preferred that to a Christian camp.

        Once camping became so expensive we concentrated on half day or all day Holiday Clubs (VBS) which was spiritually profitable, but the atmosphere isn’t the same as a 24/7 ministry.

        Comment by meetingintheclouds — September 23, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  2. This comment came in by email after we sent out the link to people we knew:

    That’s a lovely tribute to John. He certainly touched SO MANY lives. The
    number of churches we’ve run across who had their land donated by John is
    staggering! I was sorry to have missed the funeral yesterday.

    And this:

    I never met the man but heard plenty of wonderful things about him.

    And:

    Really encouraging words and perspective on the impact of Christian camping ministry.

    Finally:

    I too was at the funeral yesterday. It was one of the most inspiring funeral services I have ever attended. I have no idea what my life story would have been like had it not been for the generosity of Mr. Boddy’s gift of the land on which [our church] sits. I met Mr. Boddy twenty-eight years ago this month and have several great “Mr. B” stories! He was a great, godly Christian statesman.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 24, 2012 @ 12:42 pm


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