It's easily the happiest campground in all of Canada, cheerful enough for one to break into song while wandering blissfully through nicely wooded sites. The vocalization derives naturally at Harmony Woods, a corporation owned and operated by members of The Barbershop Harmony Society and Sweet Adeline's International. All members of the park are Debenture holders. There's room for casual campers at $30 per night.
I'm invited to Sunday service and advised by Don Hauser, club treasurer, that it won't be traditional. Indeed, it's secular but paradoxically spiritual as Terry Hallman, a retired school music teacher leads the "congregation," a lively group of about 60 campers gathered under the protective roof of the recreation hall, a 40 by 60' pavilion constructed in 1998 to provide shelter for special functions such as barbershop quartet contests, variety shows, singing clinics and large group dinners.
Today's summer theme is "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose," borrowed from Ecclesiastes. We begin with Morning Has Broken, a Gaelic melody circa 1927 followed by
This Is My Father's World which moves my spouse, flooding her with childhood memories. Next, there is a reading, I Want to Be a Cloud, which reminds me of the young poet, Wordsworth, roaming though England's Lake District. Natalie Foulon, a teenager, sings
"A La Claire Fontaire," a pretty French melody, followed by Terry Hallman again, this time reading Ten Prayers for Summer.
Prayers #3-5 provoke approving responses from the crowd: "Lord, I know that you send rain on the just and unjust, but please, not for the whole week I'm off; may the hammock be soft and the book absorbing; nobody really cares what I look like in a bathing suit, right, God?"
Indeed, the dress is casual as we listen to a reading entitled, A Mouse, Pig, Cow and Snake which indicates through fable that we are all connected. After a duet from Florence and Frank Hall, we are treated to the Harmony Woods Chorus, 25 men and women who assemble on risers and led by Music Director Bernie West from Woodstock, a retired HR negotiator in the auto parts industry, they sing He's Got The Whole World In His Hands. There are brief announcements, a closing prayer and everyone heads to the clubhouse for sandwiches and drinks.
A nice start to any day as campground activity resumes with the pool filling with swimmers while youngsters play in a well-equipped park with slides, swings, half a basketball court, a horseshoe and golf pitching area with nature trails winding throughout the woods.
We wander amidst the grounds which contain 70 serviced sites amidst 100 acres, and we are invited into Eric Alexander's (aka Sparky) and wife Betty's 25-year-old Northlander Canadian trailer built in nearby Exeter. Sparky and Betty are retired from the LCBO and Coca Cola respectively, and he plays a banjo and sings with his friend Gord who suffers from Alzheimer's. They belt out tune after tune and there are even a few I can ad lib such as "Good Old Mountain Dew!"
Don Hauser is a retired advertising head at London's CFPL TV station. He always enjoyed camping, so in October, 1988, he got together with nine partners and they purchased this property for $165,000. His trailer is a 1999 Northlander Supreme, and it's quite comfortable, easily sleeping six with a large deck area attached outside.
The members pay a yearly debenture of approximately $1,000. There are teachers, plumbers, a financial planner, farmer, fabricator, librarian, engineer, retired auto workers, cable installers, advertising salesmen, and many more as well as "casual" campers. They do not advertise casual camping; however, they have a limited number of sites available for weekends. The season lasts from May1 to October 31.
Campsites are equipped with 30 or 15 amp electrical hook-up, running water and a picnic table. Sites are generous and tree-lined providing a safe haven for a wide variety of colourful songbirds. Many have fire pits for camp fires. Male and female bath houses with hot and cold running water wash basins, showers and toilets are located nearby and include a coin operated laundry facility.
Organized as a collective, members perform most of the jobs and chores themselves around the park. They take turns managing on a weekly basis. Primarily hailing from London, Kitchener, Waterloo, Windsor, Sarnia, Mississauga, Strathroy, Burlington, and Detroit, they oversee grass mowing, the swimming pool, welcome visitors, and engage in general maintenance. They also sing - a lot! The chorus is available for public performances in the local area, and they have performed at many events over the years.
Located in south-western Ontario between Sarnia and London, Harmony Woods is four miles north of Parkhill. Don says there are many additional attractions nearby such as golf courses and the
Huron Country Playhouse , where he and his wife, Nadine, have taken out annual subscriptions. "There are museums, flea markets, Lake Huron beach resorts such as Grand Bend, the
Grand Bend Raceway with drag races on weekends, boating, canoeing and fishing.
The Stratford Festival is a one-hour drive away. Bingo takes place every Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and chorus practises are held in June, July and August on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m."
Experiencing Harmony Woods is a treat. There's cohesiveness here unlike any other campground that I have attended. Through music (and the odd bottle of beer), there is obvious caring and sharing and in this little bit of resonant heaven, much celebration and merriment - my nomination for happiest campground in Canada!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.