Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

How to be a Happy Camper Course

by Preston
April 12, 2011

Eager Paddler: Hey, did you know Kevin Callan teaches a course on camping at Flemming College? It’s called “How to be a Happy Camper”.

Pretty Wife: Who?

EP: Kevin Callan. You know, the canoeing guy who wrote all those guide books.

PW: Um…

EP: Remember that video I showed you with the James Bond bear stealing the food bag?

PW: Oh, right. Neat. Good for him.

EP: It’s next Saturday.


EP: I’m thinking of taking it.

PW: Why would you need to take a course on camping?

EP: … It’s being taught by Kevin Callan.

PW: And?

EP: … maybe I could write about it on the website.

PW: Uh huh.

Getting taught by the Happy Camper himself
Photo courtesy Allan Drummond, LearnToKayak.ca

So off I went to go learn “How to be a Happy Camper”. I’ve always felt – and Kevin even mentions in his books – that no matter who you are, or how much you think you know, it’s always good to take courses to to refresh your skills, gain different perspectives, and even clean up any bad habits you may have developed. And if anyone was going to teach me a few tips and tricks it would definitely be Kevin – or perhaps I should say Mr. Callan, as one would properly address the teacher.

Mr. Callan

The course is taught at Sir Sandford Fleming College, where for the last 21 years Mr. Callan has taught Environmental Sciences and Issues, including courses on Wilderness Ethics, and Wildlife Photography. It’s actually a college credit course, but there are no prerequisites (they let me in after all), and costs a little over $100. You can even sign up on-line on the Flemming College website.

Another program in which Mr. Callan is involved is for at-risk high school students. It’s designed to introduce them to college level courses in wilderness values and environmental leadership, and it would become quite obvious that this is a source of great pride for Mr. Callan. Partly, I’m sure, because it boasts a 75% graduation rate for those that have gone through the program. Anyone who knows about these matters knows that’s a really great number.

Eager Student

Kevin Callan showing off his gadgets
Photo courtesy Allan Drummond, LearnToKayak.ca

Having to drive two and a half hours to get to Peterborough, I got there just in time with the room practically full, but I was lucky enough to spot a seat right up front. (I suddenly realize my priorities have changed since high school). As our introductions revealed, the students in the class had really varied levels of camping experience. I wasn’t the only one here that was taking the course because of the teacher. Some had taken the class before, others knew Mr. Callan from other pursuits, and there were quite a few fans like myself. (Specifically, there was a group from learntokayak.ca, one of whom posted some rather unflattering pictures of yours truly on facebook. The pics are here.)

We started out with an introduction by Mr. Callan, as he passed out handouts that contained some class information, but also some very valuable camping recipes that I can’t wait to try out. The morning was broken up between first discussing gear (what to bring, how to pack, etc.), then we went outside for some field work. We were divided up into small groups and assigned tasks like putting up a tarp and building a fire, after which we discussed group dynamics based on how the teams interacted. After a lunch break we discussed orienteering and were given an assignment on using a compass and map. As time flew by, we ended the day discussing food choices and preparation.

A Pretty Good Teacher

The course used many teaching methods. First, Mr. Callan had the room filled with gear, which was shown and passed around, and as mentioned we had some hands-on work. We were shown videos from his website and as you would expect there was also many entertaining stories intertwined in the lessons to  reinforce different topics. I think what made him an especially good teacher was that he asked us to all introduce ourselves, including the type of experience we had and what our camping plans were. Throughout the day he would make reference to these things specifically, like emphasizing to one person about light backpacking options, and another person about safe solo tripping.

Mr. Callan going over the map with Dympna Hayes of LearnToKayak.ca
Photo courtesy Allan Drummond, LearnToKayak.ca

On a side note, I wound up ruining the funny ending to one of the videos (seen here). Once it started I blurted out “Oh, is this the one with the James Bond bear?” like some kind of giddy idiot. (Come to think of it, if you haven’t seen it either, I just ruined it for you too. Sorry.)

Many Happy Campers

Anyway, it was a great day. Got to learn a few things, meet some great people and discuss my favourite subjects, and Mr. Callan gave us absolutely no homework! I would recommend the class for anyone who wants to learn some techniques on making camping a little easier or – as the course name suggests – to be a “Happy Camper”.

I suppose now I can say I was a student of the one-and-only Kevin Callan. Do you think I can get away with putting that on my resume?



Kevin Callan Postscript

  • You can keep up with Kevin on his website www.kevincallan.com. Be sure to check out his camping videos.
  • Kevin’s recently released a new book “Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario
  • I thought that this would be the last place where Kevin would want to be mobbed for photos and autographs. Even if he wasn’t super happy with all the requests, he certainly didn’t show it. He signed a number of his books people had brought and took a few photos hamming it up for the camera. I of course could act all holier-than-thou, claiming not to want to bother him in this setting, but the truth is I forgot both books and camera at home. Doh!
  • I should also note that at no time did Kevin insist we address him as “Mr. Callan”. I was working on some fun Welcome Back Kotter references (“Hey, mister Cal-lan“), but realized no one would get those jokes in 2011.
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