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.

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