Now that the season for Scout camping has started, let’s look at a local camp that no longer exists except in the memories of those who spent their youthful summers there.
Girl Scout Camp Kienuka was located in the Bond Lake area from 1942 to 1951. Before being relocated to Bond Lake, the camp originally started near the village of Lewiston. In the late 1930s, the Girl Scout Council of Niagara Falls wanted to establish a camp close to home for girls whose families could not afford to send them to the overnight Camp Owasaka in Alleghany State Park.
In the summer of 1938, an unnamed “short-term” camp opened on the Niagara escarpment in the town of Lewiston. A 1941 newspaper article described it as “nestling in the friendly shade of great oaks, almost at the top of Lewiston Hill.” It was also within hiking distance of the site of Old Fort Gray.
At the end of the first season, a contest was held among the campers to choose a name for the new camp. Jean Hampke was awarded a mess kit for submitting the winning name, Kienuka, which means “stronghold” or “fort” in the Seneca language. It is also the name of an ancient Indian fortification that was located on the Niagara escarpment on what is now the Tuscarora Reservation.
Another connection to Native American history occurred each summer when Tuscarora Chief Clinton Rickard opened the camp for the season with Indian stories, songs and dances.
For the next three summers, Camp Kienuka offered girls the opportunity to spend three days during the week at an overnight camp just a short distance away from their home. For $1.50, girls aged 8 to 16 years old, regardless whether they were Girl Scouts or not, could attend the camp. The cost included transportation to and from the camp, seven meals, arts and crafts and other activities. The camp was under the direction of Mrs. Mae Larson and every week during the summer the Niagara Falls Gazette would publish the names of the girls who were attending the camp.
The camp accommodated about 20 girls each week for five weeks. In 1939, 97 girls participated in the program, 106 the following year and 120 in 1941. A much anticipated camp delicacy was “Angels on Horseback,” described as a “piece of snappy cheese wrapped in strips of juicy bacon. The ensemble reclines gracefully on a soft bun and the whole thing is well toasted over glowing embers.”
At this point it became apparent that the Lewiston Hill camp was not adequate for the increasing numbers of girls. In addition, the land at the top of the escarpment was becoming prime real estate for those who wanted to build homes with a view of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario plain. The Girl Scout Council had already begun looking at other sites in 1941 and decided upon the Bond Lake property. In May of that year, the Girl Scouts approached the Niagara Falls Zeta Tau Iota sorority for financial assistance in purchasing and equipping the new camp. At a meeting that month, the sorority “pledge[d] to the Scouts a very substantial sum to assure the purchase of this new property at Bond’s Lake.”
On July 24, 1942, Chief Rickard officially dedicated the new Camp Kienuka, which was adjacent to the Tuscarora Reservation and much closer to the ancient Fort Kienuka. Over the next ten years, the camp at Bond Lake went from having only a few tents and a small shack for supplies (all cooking was done outside regardless of the weather) to a facility with a washhouse, infirmary and a lodge containing a kitchen and dining hall. More tents were also added. Girls could now spend up to seven days a week at the camp and it was now opened to younger Scouts as well.
The Council also used the camp for leader training, reunions, and special events such as field days and hosting Canadian Girl Guides from Toronto. There were even days when the Boy Scouts were invited for a cookout and a girls vs. boys softball game.
With the post-war baby, industrial and housing boom in Niagara Falls, the number of campers increased every year, and in 1950, $30,000 was allocated to make improvements to the camp. Despite the infusion of cash and the enhancements that were made, 1951 was the last summer that Camp Kienuka was used. That same year, the Girl Scout Council of Niagara Falls purchased the property on the escarpment in Cambria that is now Camp Windy Meadows. Camp Kienuka was sold and eventually became part of Bond Lake County Park.
The History Center would like to hear from anyone who attended the camp or had a relative who did. Please call 434-7433 with any information you would like to share.
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.