The Regional District of Nanaimo Recreation and Parks Department is proud to share the story of our successful day camp program partnership with Qualicum First Nation. The camp was developed in response to an identified need for summer programming within rural ‘Lighthouse Country’.  ‘Lighthouse Country’ consists of a string of oceanfront hamlets along the east coast of Vancouver Island between the larger centres of Qualicum Beach and Courtenay. In terms of the Regional District of Nanaimo it falls within Electoral Area H, which is the most northern of the electoral areas in the district. The Area is on the traditional territory of the Qualicum First Nation. With an on-reserve population of about forty residents, the Nation is one of the smallest on Vancouver Island.

In 2015 the RDN community recreation programmer for the area and one of the Band Councillors (now Chief) came up with the idea to run the summer camp on the picturesque ocean/river front campground operated by the Qualicum First Nation. The camp is available to everyone ages 6-12 years old, with most campers coming from the neighbourhood of Bowser and the Qualicum First Nation reserve. Occasionally campers staying at the campground also drop in. The camp runs three days per week for six weeks during July and August. The Band provides the site for free and for the first few years they covered the cost of one of the senior camp leaders by way of a Federal employment grant.

Considering the rural setting the camp has always had solid numbers with an established core group of campers attending regularly.  The camp fee is $19/day. Our budget target for this type of program was to break even, and thus far this has been a goal we’ve achieved comfortably. The summer of 2019 is shaping up to be a banner year as we already have multiple days with waitlists.

Keys to Success

The camp is full of innovative practices and is on point as far as addressing trending issues.  Campers spend all day outdoors, combing the beach, exploring the river banks, playing in the forested areas and the grassy meadow lands. While many of the campers live rurally, they are still prone to the trends indicative of today’s lifestyle crisis of too much sedentary and screen time. Planning for activities with no indoor space and typical recreation infrastructure is a challenge for our leaders but one that is easily outweighed by the beauty of the setting.

Key to the success we’ve had with this program is hiring the right leaders. As the camp is based at a fairly remote setting over half an hour way from the programmer responsible for the program, the leaders have had to be experienced, flexible, resourceful and independent. They have needed to be prepared not only with program equipment, but with back up plans for all sorts of unexpected challenges- smoke from forest fires, extreme heat, water shortages, wildlife etc.

The focus of the program is play. Through play campers are always learning; about their community, about themselves, and their natural surroundings. The campers form new friendships and strengthen those they have within the community with fellow campers.  We invite local community heroes to visit each summer; local volunteer fire fighters and RCMP members. There are discussions about conservation and practices built into the daily camp routine which supports the environmental awareness aspect of nature based play.

Establishing Trust

The nature of the camp also supports the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Report as far as local governments providing opportunities to share cultural experiences and learnings. While there is no formal curriculum in place regarding First Nation culture, teachable moments abound through the course of the summer. The leaders and campers alike share information that they have learned about local First Nation culture. Chief Recalma of the Qualicum First Nation is also a frequent visitor of the camp and he often shares cultural insights with the leaders during staff orientation. The camp also benefits from the availability of a series of cultural boxes which have been created by the Qualicum First Nation. These are themed boxes containing culturally relevant teaching tools on a particular topic i.e. animals, music, food.

The biggest takeaway for those of us involved in the creation of this program is the value of establishing a sense of trust between partners. The trust that has been established between QFN and RDN is what allows for this program to grow and to continue being successful. Over the years there have been challenges, such as the elimination of the staff funding available to the Band, but there has always been respect and a shared commitment to making this program a success with a focus on the children the program serves.

The creation of the QFN Campground Day Camp program filled a void at a community level by providing children an opportunity to recreate together in a stunning setting under the leadership of talented and caring leaders. A partnership program between local governments such as this is possible anywhere. Community groups and local governments have resources to be shared and leveraged, be it space, time, human resources, funding or experience. The basis for such a partnership of course is trust which can take time to establish, but will also be strengthened by working on such projects.

For more information about the 2019 Summer Playground at QFN Campground programs visit the Regional District of Nanaimo’s website.


Hannah King is the Superintendent of Recreation Program Services with the Regional District of Nanaimo on beautiful Vancouver Island.  She is proud to be part of what she (perhaps biasedly) thinks is the best recreation team ever. She is currently completely caught up in the Women’s World Cup craze and will be somewhat torn come Saturday when Canada plays New Zealand. She can be reached at

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