Hart Devenney: The Bark Lake and Ontario Years

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The Friends of Bark Lake: Ontario Camp Leadership Centre, Irondale, Ontario, Canada

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The following article was researched and written by Richard Devenney. More contributors.

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Hart Devenney: The Bark Lake & Ontario Years (1956-1968)

Researched and written by Richard Devenney © R. A. B. Devenney on February 16, 2008

The Bark Lake and Ontario Years (1956-1968)

Part of the reason Gord Wright may have wished to have Hart Devenney join his staff, was among other things, a particular lesson, and Canadian concern, arising from the experience, at all levels of government and throughout society arising out of World War II. The problem was that ‘society’, in general, just did not have enough “leaders” to go around.

How this deficiency might be addressed, was a hot topic for all - not the least of whom were educators. As Director of Physical Education of Ontario within the Department of Education of the provincial government, Gord Wright had been well placed to help formulate an “education” based solution to this problem. He was able to create and ‘sell’ his approach, of using both athletic and camp venues to give instruction to skilled teens in their late formative years (16 - 19) in how to hone their personal skills to become better mentors, teachers and coaches - in short, better leaders. They would be called LITs (ie. ‘leaders in training’). It was, and still is, a wonderful idea - both in the simplicity of its conception and how it could be implemented.

Hart Devenney already had experience in giving leadership seminars and he also had experience in using the camping setting to do so. The first full camping season for Hart to be the Camp Director at “Bark Lake” was 1956. The author of this essay is unable to know the myriad of planning meetings that must have gone on, all the discussions had, all the new ideas considered, all the personnel factors to be dealt with - it must have been a seemingly endless steam of ‘issues’; but, by early July of that year, there was a full Girl’s camp held at the Ontario Camp Leadership Centre (“O.C.L.C.”).

Hart was to experience another important aspect in the creation, delivery and implementation of effective physical education and recreation programs to a broad-based large population that was markedly different in Ontario than it was in Manitoba.

The Department of Education in the Ontario government was in a very different situation than any other place he had previously worked in. It was bigger, it was more populated with tiers of accountability, it was more political, and it was in, and itself, a bureaucracy. This is called “administration” for the scope of the mandate.

The main part of his responsibilities was the supervision of, and for, the development and statement of appropriate primary school physical education curriculae for all the Boards of Education in the Province of Ontario. This meant a lot of travelling around the province to visit the respective boards - both the Catholic and regular school boards. It embodied understanding all relevant differences between different regions in the provinces, even while trying to establish a sort of uniformity among them all. Thus, in doing so, he was to be in some ways a “leader” of “leaders”.

With Bark Lake, meaning O.C.L.C., it was a little more ‘hands-on’ for him; yet, still while Hart participated in all the concept meetings, the brain-storming sessions, the costing sessions and all other related interactions; in the end he had to do what was necessary, or find the people who would or could.

In his travels around the Province of Ontario, and even beyond in relation to Hart’s other duties, Hart then made offers of recruitment to any of those who were knowledgeable in physical education and who he thought interested and qualified, who would like to participate as counsellors, at and for the ‘experiment’ of the leadership training camp at Bark Lake. This was done year after year.

And so, in time, a stable and regular instructing staff, both for the “Girls” camp and the “Boys” camps was established, and many of these exemplary high school teachers or college or university faculty members, returned year after year to be counsellors of the O.C.L.C. at Bark Lake. These physical educators made an indelible mark on the young potential leaders who attended at Bark Lake as LITs during Hart’s tenure there as Camp Director.

Hart Devenney and Gord Wright, along with all these others, developed and eventually implemented some very special programs at Bark Lake to foster group leadership skills by having for example; section rivalries by way of regattas, by orienteering competitions, in “team-building” by having whole section efforts in building kayaks; and also, effective response exercises in mock “disaster” situations. Bark Lake was a crucible where all these senior educators could explore which situational experiences, and which did not, work as far as providing good leadership development exercises.

The O.C.L.C. very quickly developed a profile of excellence in the education field. This did not go unnoticed and, in time, both future Premiers of Ontario, John P. Robarts and William G. Davis while they were each serving as the Minister of Education of the Province, visited Bark Lake for a half a day or more to see this special education facility on the little jewel of a site called Bark Lake. These visits happened respectively in 1959 or 1960 and again two or three years after that first one.

On a different and personal note, Hart Devenney also had an interesting ‘sidebar’ professional opportunity that most people do not know about. In 1957, the then fledgling local Toronto television station, CFTO-TV, approached Hart to see if he would be part of a Saturday evening show the station was planning to air against the “Hockey Night in Canada” game carried by the CBC competition.

This new show was to have a ‘country’ theme and CFTO had the idea, knowing of Hart’s success in calling square dances on radio in Winnipeg, for Hart to call a few square dances on the new show each Saturday. He demurred citing “camera shyness”; but, it seems more likely to this essay’s author, that Hart thought such an engagement would not comport well with his other professional duties. Yet, it can be said it would have been fostering physical “recreation”, even as it does now.

Meanwhile, Hart’s family found grounding in Ontario. Don, Hart’s middle son, showed real talent in gymnastics, and competed often - achieving some very promising successes before tearing up his knee in a vaulting jump in the late 1950s. Surgery then was not at all like it is today, and the detailed surgery and recovery from it sadly ended his career in the sport.

Don went on to a graduate degree in languages and literature, and eventually in law at U. of T. Much later, Don also served as a counsellor at the O.C.L.C. at Bark Lake some years after Hart was no longer the Director there. Richard, in time, found his own sport was long distance running, joining a good new local club, and he achieved modest success in it, before going on like his brother to higher learning at the University of Toronto. He got an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, and later also in law - the year before Don did.

Rena, Hart’s wife, participated actively in church organized events and volunteering at many places including a couple of hospitals. Skip, Hart Jr., the eldest of Hart’s children eventually was able to come to Ontario, and married and had a son. He also finished his undergraduate degree, and obtained a Masters in Social Work. However, as a result of complications from his previous illness, he was unable to fight off a particularly virulent pneumonia that struck suddenly in late January of 1964. Hart Jr. passed away after only a couple of days of not feeling well.

Hart Devenney’s career in physical education and recreation at this period, to the knowledge of the author, continued on and stayed much the same as described above, until his retirement from the Ontario Government in 1968.