Summer in Canada is officially underway!
When I was growing up, summer meant camping. For several weeks each summer, my parents would load up us five kids and hit the road. Even in the big land-yacht autos of the 1970s—before they invented minivans—there weren’t enough seat belts for all seven of us, so when seatbelt use became mandatory in Ontario in the mid 1970s, two of the four of us in the back seat shared a belt.
In the early years, we didn’t drive far. A few hours’ hot drive (no vehicle a/c yet) brought us to the shores of Lake Erie. Turkey Point provincial park would be our home for two weeks of summer fun.
Our home away from home was a tent-trailer. Although seldom seen these days, a tent-trailer is exactly what the name says: it is a trailer on which a tent is mounted. Two planks of wood slide out on either side of the trailer and, with metal supports installed underneath—and you only forget those once—these became beds for five of us. The older kids got their own tent after they realized sleeping on the floor of the trailer meant being stepped on.
The canvas covering the trailer and bed wings was an unnatural combination of teal roof and sherbet-orange sides. Inside, a metal-tube framework supported the canvas. There were no amenities in the trailer, just a bit of floor space for clothes and shoes. Everything else, including food, was stored in the trunk of the car. We only went inside the tent-trailer for sleeping and getting dressed.
Meals were cooked and eaten outdoors. We had two camping cooks: Mom was in charge of the Coleman stove while Dad manned the barbeque. The barbeque was a charcoal-fired grill, precariously perched on three legs.
We dined, if one could call it that, on wooden picnic tables. A hideous yellow and orange plastic cloth held in place by wooden clothes pegs covered the tabletop. We ate outdoors rain or shine, protected, sort of, by a canopy that zipped to the front of the tent-trailer. In later years, we had a screened-in “kitchen” tent which made mosquito season more bearable.
Sleeping in the tent trailer was an adventure of its own. There was a gap between the wood bed platform and the canvas which was loosely secured with stretchy cord. With three kids jammed in the bed it sometimes happened that one of us would fall through the gap onto the ground outside.
Thunderstorms at night meant very little sleep. We kids, and probably our parents, too, nervously watched lightning flashes and tree shadows dancing across the ceiling. There was only flimsy canvas and good luck between us and a toppled tree. Fortunately, no such disaster occurred and the tent trailer gave us many years of service.
I think what finally signalled the end of the tent trailer was our first cross-country trip. Three weeks of camping from Ontario to the BC border in the tent trailer was a bit more adventurous than we wanted to be. For our next long-distance trip, our parents bought a new trailer—this time a hard-top tent trailer with amenities like a fridge, stove, and dining table. It wasn’t quite an RV but, after the teal and orange tent-trailer, it seemed glamorous to us.
I never felt nostalgic for the old tent-trailer; the new trailer was paradise by comparison. Yet my love of the outdoors and penchant for adventure was surely distilled in those earlier years with only teal canvas between me and the sky.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.