Scouts Canada may sell off property — St. Thomas Times-Journal

By Ian McCallum
St. Thomas Times-Journal, March 30, 2004.

Describing the organization as "property rich" while the goal is to be "program rich," a Scouts Canada official has confirmed the future of Camp Timken is to be clarified this week.

The 60-acre campground, located near Iona, is one of several in southwestern Ontario that could be on the sales block shortly, says Myles Vanni, operations manager for the Tri-Shores Council of Scouts Canada.

The organization owns about 90 properties across the country, with 30 to 40 of those now under review. Only about 10 will be maintained in Ontario and that concerns Elgin leaders who see Camp Timken as vulnerable, based on a June, 2003, property report that assessed each camp facility with an eye to their potential.

"We're taking a holistic approach by taking a look at all of our properties," explained Vanni. "In the last few years we've seen a pretty huge increase in terms of requirements for compliance to meet health and safety codes."

To meet new provincial government water regulations, notes Vanni, "may cost us $10,000 to $12,000 a camp."

He added insurance premiums are "putting a lot of pressure on us, so do we need and can we afford so many properties?"

Dwindling membership is also a major concern, conceded Vanni, and nowhere is that more evident than in Elgin.

Ten years ago, Elgin District counted more than 1,000 youngsters and leaders in its membership. Today that number stands at 458, a drop of 140 in the past year alone.

"So we're having to look at all those properties in consideration that our membership is less than it was 10 or 15 year ago." Vanni said he toured Camp Timken and described it as a "great piece of property in terms of a marsh environment."

But the aim of the evaluation, said Vanni, was to determine "what types of themes can be held on the property."

And in that respect, Camp Timken was dismissed in the property report as "a property that had very little of special significance" and puts forth a case for "theme" camps such as pioneer villages or frontier main streets.

The camp was purchased in 1975 by the Elgin District Boy Scouts with the assistance of a $35,000 grant from Canadian Timken Ltd. through its Maple Leaf Foundation.

Elgin leaders argue the camp remains the property of the former district, but Vanni disagreed.

"Although the beneficial owner/user is Elgin District, the legal owner has always been Scouts Canada," Vanni advised. Asked when the ownership was transferred to the national organization, Vanni said, "I'm not sure."

A draft report on the status of Camp Timken is to be given to Elgin leaders this week and they have until April 5 to provide written feedback. A final decision on whether to sell the property is to be made April 17.

Vanni confirmed if the land is sold, the proceeds would not remain in Elgin.

"If we sell a property then the proceeds from the sale would go to enhance the remaining facilities and invest in more program opportunities."

And Scouts in Elgin would be offered camping opportunities elsewhere.

"It's a very emotional issue for people," conceded Vanni. "Because it's not an issue of just mortar and bricks, but it's people's heart and soul that has gone into providing these camps. And a lot of it is the dream of wanting kids to be able to have a camping experience and we want that dream to be able to continue. If by chance Camp Timken is one of the ones we have to sell those Elgin kids will be camping somewhere else."