S'mores and campfire songs like Land of the Silver Birch will be on tap May 12, when former campers and staff of the now-closed YWCA camp gather at the downtown Women's Y.

Founded in 1917 near Ste. Marguerite, 100 kilometres north of Montreal, Oolahwan was Quebec's first summer camp for girls. It closed in 2004, a victim of rising costs and changing times.

In 2005, the Y sold the 345-acre property, including a private lake, for $1.47 million to developers, who have subdivided it into building lots.

Former camper Lesley Charters Cotton, 58, learned two years ago her beloved camp had been sold when she tried to donate photographs to the YWCA's archives. The holistic health teacher in Dorval decided to organize a reunion to keep Oolahwan memories alive.

Cotton, who attended the camp from 1958 to 1967, has contacted about 60 former campers and staff, now age 30 to 96, from New York state to Vancouver Island. Many have contributed photos and mementos, including felt banners decorated with the Oolahwan owl.

Cotton also tracked down the Oolahwan songbook, featuring old favourites like Sipping Cider Through a Straw and the camp theme: Do You Know our Northern Highlands?

"Oolahwan was a wonderful camp because it had traditions," recalled May Brown, 87, who was program director and later camp director from 1945-47.

In a telephone interview from Vancouver, the retired physical education professor and city councillor said she was dismayed to learn the camp had been sold. "It seems a tragedy to me."

In one of Oolahwan's best-loved rituals, a group of girls would paddle across the lake while the others massed on the beach. Then both sides sang in harmony across the water. "The singing across the lake - just talking about it, I get goosebumps," said Sue Kirkuts (nee Holt), 59, of Barry, Ont., who attended Oolahwan for 12 years.

Campers wore white to chapel, a clearing in the woods with log benches. They sang Johnny Appleseed's grace before meals and Taps at dusk: "Day is done, gone the sun ..."

"I was often very moved," recalled Cathy Theroux, 36, of Laval, a counsellor at Oolahwan in 1989 and 1990. She returned in 1993, after the camp started accepting boys, but found the atmosphere changed.

On the last night of each two-week session, campers launched candles, on wooden blocks, from the dock until the lake shimmered with hundreds of flickering flames.

"This was your wish that you would come back next summer," recalled Christine Somerville, 68 (nee Bryce), a grandmother on Saltspring Island in British Columbia who attended Oolahwan from 1950 to 1955.

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