Camp Feral!: Fifteen Years, 1998 – 2012 (Part 1) by Fred Patten
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
“Camp Feral! An all-inclusive furry summer camp where the registration fee covers your food, lodging and activities for the most unique and memorable furry experience of your life! Your fee covers all the coffee you can drink, [and] all the breakfast lunch or dinner you can eat.” (from the Camp Feral! 2012 website)
Camp Feral! is the oldest of the recorded outdoor furry conventions, going back to 1998. (There may have been earlier informal furry camping trips that made no claim of being conventions.) It is also Canada’s oldest furry event, and the fourth oldest continuing furry convention (after EuroFurence in 1995 and Anthrocon and Mephit FurMeet in 1997). It was started after the oldest furry annual convention, ConFurence in Southern California (1989), gave rise to U.S. East Coast furry conventions in 1995 to 1997 (Furtasticon, Confurence East, Albany Anthrocon), inspiring Canadian furry fans to start their own convention – but with a difference.
Camp Feral! was conceived by several Toronto-area Furry fans. P. Pardus said in the Feral! 99! Survival Guide that it got started by him and Terry Wessner asking each other “what if” questions during Albany Anthrocon ’97. Other furs remember the planning as starting just after the first Albany Anthrocon in July 1997, while still others remember it as preceding the first Anthrocon but inspired by Anthrocon’s pre-con publicity. In any case, everyone agrees that Albany Anthrocon gave them the idea. The original plan, to have an outdoor summer camping retreat with furry workshops instead of a traditional hotel-style convention (it is often called the “uncon” because it is so different from other furry conventions), is credited to P. (Panthera) Pardus (Ken Suzuki) of Mississauga, and Silfur (Dan Markey) and Terry Wessner of Toronto. They held several organizational meetings from summer 1997 through early 1998, led by Pardus in Wessner’s 22nd floor Toronto apartment. The Camp Feral! name is credited to MelSkunk (Melissa Drake), in response to a call for a name that was “evocative without being too open to ridicule”. The initial committee consisted of Pardus (chairman), Wessner (facilitator), and Silfur (activities coordinator), plus Simba (Benjamin Eren Robinson, also known as Benjamin; advertising director and web site developer) and Wilykat (Colin Bolton; safety and security), all of Toronto-area furry fandom. The committee and workshop instructor posts for this and future years have not always had the formal titles that they do today – Pardus and Wessner were known at FeralCom meetings as “president-for-life” and “facilitator” — but these are the furs and the jobs that they were responsible for. Wessner bankrolled the first Camp Feral!, which operated at a steep loss because the committee seriously underestimated expenses. (He was reimbursed over several years.)
To qualify for insurance, FeralCom incorporated under the name of the Toronto Role-playing and Anthropomorphic Animal Costuming Society. TRAACS was listed as “a sponsor” of Camp Feral!, and campers were instructed to make their registration cheques payable to TRAACS. TRAACS was later changed to Camp Feral Arts Events.
The first Camp Feral! was held at Camp Arowhon, about three hours’ drive from Toronto, “a campground nestled deep in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. With its own lake [Tee Pee Lake], its facilities are well-suited to the convention due to the fact that it hosts several summer camps for children during a two-month period throughout the summer (its main log cabin [dining] hall for campers, built in 1928, can host almost 350 people).” (WikiFur) (Deuce says that is 350 children and youths; it is overcrowded above 150 adults. To ensure against overcrowding, a limit was set: no more than 150 campers – which has not been met yet; attendance has never been more than 132 in 2006.) Residence cabins across the Camp for six to ten campers held three to six Feral! campers each, although larger groups of friends could request to bunk together. Fursuits were encouraged. It took place on August 21 – 23, 1998. About 50 campers (besides the committee) attended for C$125. A chartered bus from downtown Toronto was available for an additional C$25 for campers who did not have their own transportation to the campsite.
Known fans besides the committee were workshop instructors Cataroo (Rachel Cawley; art), Marlos (Tony Teakles; art & costuming), MelSkunk (face-painting), Nexxus (James Robertson), Ostrich (Marshall Woods; costuming), Smash Greywolf, costuming, Tirran (Ron Orr, and his wife & children, Ann, Cathy, & Peggy; sewing & costuming), and Torrle Z Wolf (Mike Macklin; art & costuming). FeralCom members Silfur, Simba, and Terry Wessner also taught workshops. The first Camp Feral! artistic mascot was Farley, a lynx designed by Simba (Benjamin). Farley appeared in the 20-page con book, titled The Feral! Survival Guide, and on the convention T-shirt drawn by MelSkunk and watercolour-painted by Benjamin, showing Farley in the woods being asked by a fox if he isn’t standing in poison ivy. Benjamin also designed the 1998 Feral! logo (pictured left).
Activities included swimming, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and windsurfing; guided nature hikes, a wolf howl (“An Algonquin staff ecologist will make a spectacular and informative presentation on wolves as a sort of briefing session […] Patience and quietude is required to help communicate with the wolves of Algonquin and seemingly become one of the pack […]”); a wide variety of team sports such as softball, volleyball, basketball, and soccer; archery, climbing, and outdoor camping instruction; and the drawing, writing, and costuming workshops of about an hour and a half each. There were no guests of honour – histories that name the first workshop instructors as guests of honour are wrong, although the instructors got some benefits that are usually given to GoHs. Games included Predator & Prey, and Capture the Flag (with a furry twist). (The rules of Predator & Prey, according to WikiFur, are that “participants are split into three groups based on the roles in an ecosystem – carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores, which can eat any animal below them in the chain. The objective of all participants is to consume as many creatures as possible by tagging them while stopping at food and water stations. “Special” roles in the ecosystem (such as disease, fire, etc.) are often performed by Guests of Honour, with amusing results.”) Other activities included a Musicians’ Circle and two nights of evening dances, a MixTape (high school) dance and a DJ dance, in a large three-room cabin with one room devoted to a headless fursuit lounge.
The event was very popular! The “under the stars” outdoors woodland setting, with just enough civilized attributes (like modern plumbing) to feel comfortable, was enthusiastically approved. The only serious complaint was that three days were not enough. Camp Feral! was increased to five days from 1999 on.
FeralCom meetings were held throughout the year in Wessner’s apartment. The second Camp Feral was held on August 14 – 18, 1999. The five-day schedule has become traditional, with participants arriving and settling in throughout the first day and programming beginning at dinner and in the evening, and on the last day the bus departing for Toronto in the morning. The Committee included P. Pardus (Head Manager and Registration), Simba (Public Relations and Media Manager), Terry Wessner (Workshops Coordinator), Silfur (Activities Coordinator), and Bohor (Ryan Torchia) (Transportation Manager); with assistants Isaac (Sean Howard) (Marketing Strategist), Hiker (Trent Drake) (Head Counselor), Marlos (Secretary), FuzzyBunny (Gareth Lloyd) (Activities Coordinator), and Pakesh De (Mike Dickinson) (Security and Camper Safety). During the early years, P. Pardus was the official chairman while Terry Wessner was recognized as the one who unofficially “got things done”. Wessner referred to it as “herding cats”; chairing committee meetings to keep to the point, etc.
Camp Arowhon was not available, so Feral! 99 moved to the Kinark Outdoor Centre, “It is located in the Haliburton Heights region of southeastern Ontario, Canada, very near to a small town named Minden. This venue bears a hilly terrain with its own lake, which quickly earned the nick name of “Lake Nestea” due to the particles of leaves from the nearby trees (tannin) that gave the water a deep golden hue. Where Arowhon excelled in rustic charm, Kinark had the advantage of being a more modern facility which had a few class room spaces with good resources available for workshops.” (WikiFur) [Uncle Kage has nitpicked that the tannin is a leaf-chemical, not the leaf-particles themselves.] Facilities included: “The Lakeview area features sleeping cabins with a capacity of twelve per cabin, centralized shower-washroom building, including flush toilets, individual showers, and sinks and a lounge building including a small refrigerator, couches, and chairs. The Central Dining Hall seats 100 furs and provides full food service, is equipped with a fireplace and wrap-around deck overlooking the lake. It also contains modern washroom facilities, a pay phone, and two conference rooms for use by Feral!. The Nova Centre consists of an indoor meeting space for 30 furs, a fully equipped kitchen, another pay phone, a laundry room with washer and dryers, and an attached outdoor pavilion. Kinark’s Discovery centre is equipped for nature and environmental exploration activities. The Eagles Nest (Recreation Hall) is an indoor activities facility. It consists of an upper floor room which can seat 100 furs and downstairs rooms that can be used for small group activities. Summer Circle is a self-contained, multi-building area, geographically separated from the main site. It includes outhouses, a shower facility, a kitchen building, and sleeping cabins. “ (Feral! 99 pamhlet.) There were fifteen sleeping cabins, named for local wildlife: Bear, Beaver, Deer Yard, Frog, Heron, Porcupine, Rabbit, Wolf, etc. Deuce remembers Kinark as being less popular because, while it had more facility space for workshops, it was not nearly as “rustic” and Feral! had to share one year with another group, the food was poor, and the lake water was slimy. FeralCom looked for another venue, but there are not that many large commercial campgrounds near Toronto.
There were about 75 attendees (called campers), despite the cost doubling to C$250 to reflect the Camp’s actual expenses.
Workshops and instructors included Drawing Furries I: Basic (K-9 (Scott Fabianek), MelSkunk, Simba), Drawing Furries II: Action and Expression (K-9, Loopy (Andrew Pidcock), MelSkunk), Drawing Furries III: Perspective and Drawing from Nature (Loopy, Simba), Drawing IV: Life Drawing (Simba), Drawing Furries V: Comics (MelSkunk, Torrle), Drawing Furries VI: Advanced Techniques (panel), Costuming I: Making a Tail (Deuce (Christopher Thomas)), Costuming II: Starting a Body Suit (Torrle), Costuming III: Life Casting (Bleis, Lucius, Super Jay, demonstrating on Marlos), Costuming IV: Plushie Making (Tirran), Costuming V: Foam Carving (Deuce), Costuming VI: Face Painting and Prosthetics Application (Marlos, Super Jay), Costuming VII: Performing in Costume (panel), Writing I: Rules for Good Writing (Terry), Writing II: Writing Furries as Nonhumans (Terry), Writing III: Furry World Building (MelSkunk, Terry), and Overcoming Creative Blocks (Spatter). Activities included most of those of the previous year, plus animal-related “games.” “What would it be like to experience the world through the senses of an animal? To see with the eyes of a hawk, listen with the ears of a rabbit, sniff with a canid muzzle or prowl through darkness with the vision of a cat? […] What does it mean to belong to a pack? To wolves it means many things.”
More traditional games included the previous year’s Capture the Flag and Predator & Prey, plus a wall-climbing facility of the Kinark Centre. Wessner was a general Master of Ceremonies for most of the Camp. On the next-to-last day of the camp, the Centre’s cabins presented competing cabin-wide skits. An art show and sales service was managed by Nexxus of FurNation, allowing artists to display and sell prints of their work. A Musicians’ Circle featured solo performers (some duets and groups) singing and/or playing an instrument. Dances took place in the woods at night, with DJs and popular records providing the music, and Laser with a laser providing light shows among the trees. The final scheduled event was a dead-dog party on the last night, before the departure day.
This year’s Feral! Survival Guide grew to 38 pages, including a fold-out map of the Kinark Outdoor Centre. It featured a front cover by Simba of Farley showing him (in his anthro liger form) and Timbavati the white lioness around; and a back cover by Loopy. The con T-shirt was by Wookiee/Nakira showing a Furry lion and wolf enjoying a swimming hole, the lion on a rope swing.
Feral! 99 asked campers to write convention reports, and several responded. Some samples (spelling, grammar, and capitalization corrected):
Deuce: “I spent most of the convention teaching costuming techniques to enthusiastic furs. Biggest lesson learned: subtract two inches from floofy tail diameters to account for fluffiness, or you’ll get a tail that looks like a watermelon }:>.
“Many activities and workshops took place over the course of the convention. I’ll leave it to other furs to produce a detailed list }:>. Moments that stick in my mind include:
“…and the OFFICIAL Feral! theme song…” “o/~ kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit… o/~”
“Unfortunately, the evil ferret couldn’t remember how kidnapping the baby fox would help him rule the world, as he had an attention span of exactly five seconds…”
Sneaking up on Tyvin (he knows why).
[instructor] “*ouch*…. ok, let me get _another_ band-aid…”
Tossing Silfur into the lake.
Being able to see stars without haze.
Getting up at 7:30… and enjoying it.”
Pakesh De: “Feral 99 was a bashing success, aside from the food problem (or as a certain Texan told me, cheese sandwiches???!) It went super, even Mother Nature got involved and made the weather fantastic. The one late night storm was a spectacular light show, and certainly was great to watch. The activities were a good start to any camp and we had plenty of them from archery (William Tell anyone?) to horseback riding (no, I wasn’t saddled myself). The workshops definitely made the day with lectures on worldbuilding by the talented Terry to how to make tails (one very fluffy one comes to mind) by the well versed Deuce who will remember the fox tail for years to come I bet ;). Site worked out well as having a private lake and camp ensured the mundanes stayed away, and we could do what we felt like and not see the glances of the regulars make us feel weird; certainly a change from hotel cons where a fursuit at a Wendy’s is almost asking for too much attention.
“As far as the other bits and pieces go, everyone got sleep, maybe not enough by day 5 :), good food that can always be made better, and hot showers which were soundly loved by anyone who needed the blast to wake up. A total package that will be remembered by all and commented on for years with all the juicy *you had to be there* stories, although a certain chubby Clydesdale basked semi naked on the pier and Bungee almost cracked his lens taking a picture of me, to a refreshing.. dip? ;).. of the huggable Silfur into the Tetly Tea lake..
“All in all, several days of fun, sun, and relaxation, hope to see more happy faces in 2000 😉
“The Clydesdale will bring more Coca-Cola too, bank on it ;)”
Kobayashi Lennon: “We rode the TTC to the mall and hung out for a bit before it was time to walk over to the hotel to meet the bus. It was a big yellow school bus. I don’t think I’ve been on one since I graduated high school. Wow. The three-hour bus ride to the camp was loud and fun, lots of singing and silliness. I slept for about an hour of it. Watching the countryside go by was so nice, it is so beautiful up there. The announcements we listened to upon arriving in the park cracked us up, with its warning about being hit by moose: “Moose can be surprisingly hard to see.”
“The approach to the camp was fun. Narrow, winding, bumpy dirt road in a big yellow school bus. The driver was so cool, didn’t hesitate or flinch once, getting applause from all of us a number of times. We arrived in one piece, got off the bus, and were led to our cabins. Instead of one of the dormitory-style cabins, I found myself in the Log Cabin: two bedrooms.
“There was also a wonderful view of the lake from the porch of the cabin.
“For all the meals, which were damned good, we would meet in the main lodge. Dinner that night was filling and fun. There were no activities scheduled for that night, furs just hung out and chatted. After a bit I retired to my cabin to write in my journal for a while (I found the camp to be awfully helpful to my creativity, must’ve been the quiet) before going to sleep.
“Saturday 8/22: I Never Knew There Were So Many Stars.
“The bell calling everyone to breakfast was at about 7 am, I think. I’m not really sure ’cause I didn’t make it. Even when Silfur came knocking on the door to let us know we would miss breakfast. I didn’t care. I wasn’t feeling so hot, sometimes I’m kinda sick to my stomach in the mornings. So we slept in and I think I rejoined the group at about 10 am. I skipped out on a costuming workshop I’d signed up for so I could sleep in. I also changed my mind about an archery lesson. Instead, I spent a huge part of the day stretched out on my tummy on a boat dock letting the sun warm me while I wrote some more.
“I finally felt myself unwinding and relaxing. It had been a day since I’d last heard a car or a phone. The sun felt good on my back, the breeze was delicious in my hair, and it was lovely to just lie in one spot and do nothing. I also enjoyed watching other furs having fun on the lake, in kayaks and doing windsurfing. This was one of the things I liked most about Feral!–when I wanted to go off and be a bit solitary as tigers are wont to do, I could do so without being totally cut off from the activities and the furs around me.
“That was about the extent of my during-the-day activities. I don’t remember the last time I spent a whole day laying about doing absolutely nothing–those of you that have been witness to my multitasking habits should be in awe. I generally have such a hard time sitting still and slacking off that I’m still pretty amazed that I kept this up all day. Dinner was nice, and afterwards I got a chance to meet Ann [Orr, Ron Orr’s wife]. She’s a very nice fur, I’m glad I had a chance to get to know her a bit while I was there. Her two little girls lit the campfire.
“As darkness fell folks gathered around the campfire. A couple of furs tried to cook Jiffy Pop over the fire. I learned that that stuff burns up real good. 🙂 Then somefur got out a guitar, and people started singing. I wanted to get away from the crowd for a while, so I wandered off and lay on my back in the damp grass under a picnic table. I saw more stars in the sky than I can ever remember seeing at once. It was breathtaking, and gently reminded me of just how small my place in the universe is. I stayed there for a couple of hours, until the campfire was doused and furs started wandering off to their cabins.
“I headed back to mine and found Qeveren outside, near the enclosed swim dock. He and I stood out on the dock for a long time, stargazing. He pointed out all sorts of constellations and planets and the Milky Way. The lake was so still and quiet. Then the wolves started howling. We could hear them off in the distance, in the woods across the lake. We stayed out there and listened for a long time, until I was just too cold to stand outside any longer–I was all damp from being in the grass.
“Sunday 8/23: Storms and Rainbows
“I had to get up for breakfast this morning, because there were a couple of workshops I was signed up for that I simply did not want to miss. Terry was leading 2 writing workshops, which were fun and very helpful to me. I’ve been meaning to seriously pursue my writing for a while now, it seems it fell aside after high school. A lot of things did, really. Circumstances have taught me that you should never set aside your dreams or lose sight of the things you really want to do. I learned a lot of useful things in the workshop, and hopefully before too long I’ll have some finished works to share.
“Remember how I’d been sunning myself on the boat dock the day before? I didn’t used to burn, my nice dark Asian skin usually was protection enough. This time, however, I was quite the crispy little critter. I burned pretty good all over the backs of both shoulders. This took me by surprise because I haven’t burned in years. Today, nearly two weeks after it happened, I’m peeling. Sheesh. But it was worth it, I have some really nice color to me now. It stopped hurting after a couple of days.
“After lunch I was seized by a bit of temporary insanity…I agreed to go out in a canoe with Phril. This was insanity because I am deathly afraid of water, especially if it’s dark and cold or even looks like it is. The thought of falling into it, even with a lifejacket, scares the hell out of me. Well, I did reasonably well for a bit, although I was terribly nervous each time the canoe leaned to one side slightly. Then Phril got the bright idea of taking his sweater off in the back of the canoe. The stupid thing started rocking to and fro, and to make matters worse, he steered us across a speedboat’s wake. If I hadn’t needed his help to get back to shore, I’d have turned around and beaten him with my oar. When we were safely back on dry land I scurried off to my cabin to rest for a while and regain my wits. 🙂
“I spent the rest of the day goofing off. There was a huge Predator/Prey game going on, but I didn’t feel up to running about, so I just watched. It’s a really neat concept, the idea is that you get a whole little ecosystem going–about half of the players are predators, the rest are prey. There were also folks playing Fate, Disease, hunters, and a Mack truck. Everyfur who played had a wonderful time.
“Later in the evening a huge thunderstorm came in. Before the sun went down it broke for a bit and I got to see a really beautiful rainbow come out over the lake. I managed to get a few decent pictures of it, even. Then it came back in just as a bunch of furs loaded up a huge ‘war canoe’ for a photo op. (I decided to stay on shore this time.) Those poor things got soaked. It was pretty funny watching them trying to get the canoe turned around.
Next: Camp Feral!: Fifteen Years, 1998 – 2012, Part 2 – Fred Patten