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Telus welcomes B.C. teens to the company’s first summer camp

On the Sunshine Coast’s Sechelt Inlet, 24 teens are experiencing the first week of summer camp

Telus has officially welcomed the first campers to its new non-profit kids’ summer camp on the Sunshine Coast. 

On Sunday, July 17, 24 teens arrived at Camp Cue’s musical theatre-focused camp, hosted at what is now called Telus Wilderness Point. It’s the first camp for Telus and for Camp Cue.

“This new camp is a not-for-profit initiative created by TELUS to help more Canadian youth participate in safe and inclusive summer retreats with their peers, while experiencing the beauty of nature,” a press release from the company said. 

Telus purchased the former Wilderness Resort & Retreat’s 124-acre property on Cawley Point and Storm Bay (between Salmon and Narrows inlets) in 2020, but the pandemic delayed their plans to host a youth camp in the area until now. 

First look at facilities

While 24 campers are getting the first glimpse of what the site has to offer, Telus Wilderness Point can hold up to 50 campers in its two cabins and six tents. Two open-air activity tents provide some shelter from the sun, and a kitchen provides catered food.

The site has its own well water and runs primarily on solar power, senior communications manager David Kyle points out. A back-up generator is also on site, as well as batteries if needed. The press release says the camp will be energy neutral, helping to achieve the company’s goal to be a zero-waste, carbon-neutral organization by 2030. Originally there was no connectivity at the site but now the area uses 5G.

Since the location was purchased in 2020, it has undergone renovations, health and safety upgrades, and facility upgrades by construction contractor Dakota Ridge Builders. Telus’s chief communications officer, Jill Schnarr, said the company has spent around $25 million dollars on the camp and marina so far, including the purchase of those properties. Last fall, Schnarr told Coast Reporter the company expects to spend upwards of $50 million on the camp and marina on Sechelt Inlet, and future developments at those sites, in the coming years. About $30-40 million was slated to be invested in the camp, while more than $10 million will go toward upgrading the marina on Sechelt Inlet Road.

When Schnarr first visited the site when it was up for sale, she recalls thinking it was a great opportunity for Telus to host a kids camp in line with the company’s foundation and support of marginalized youth in Canada. 

“We wanted kids that don't normally get the chance to come and experience the beauty and nature to be able to do so,” she said. 

More marina space

The former Choquer & Sons Machine Welding Ltd. site on Sechelt Inlet Road will serve as a launching point for the camp. Archaeological and remediation work at that location has recently resumed, after taking a break for the winter and wetter weather since November.

Telus also hopes to develop the marina into a community hub, Schnarr said, with more berths for boats, a staging area for the camp and potentially a restaurant in the next couple of years. The nearby Blue Heron restaurant at 5991 Delta Road closed earlier this year

Future plans

In the fall of 2021, Telus applied to the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to rezone the camp property in order to increase the number of buildings on site. Schnarr said, if the new zoning is approved, they will build a lodge that will be used for executive retreats for different organizations. 

Such retreats, she added, will help fund the kids’ camps and could be run throughout the year, after the main camp season. Organizations could do strategic planning and team building and Telus is talking about having their teams come to the camp’s existing facilities this September, Schnarr said. Between 30 and 40 people could be hosted.

“We're hoping that we’re able to do that right away,” Schnarr said. 

Local work and investments

The opening of the Telus Wilderness Point comes as the company is expanding its 5G wireless network on the Sunshine Coast and throughout B.C. This year, the company is investing $27 million on the Sunshine Coast as part of a $17.5 billion investment in infrastructure, operations, and spectrum across the province through 2026, the press release states — connecting the PureFibre network to more than 90 per cent of residences and businesses in Sechelt, Gibsons, Pender Harbour and Powell River. 

For the camp initiative, Telus projects 120 jobs at the peak of construction following the rezoning application, and an estimated 100 indirect jobs. During the peak of summer season, around 120 people would be employed on site. 

“We want as many people from the Coast as possible,” Kyle said of job opportunities. 

Schnarr said one of Telus’s mottos is “We give where we live,” and with many employees on the Sunshine Coast, that factored into the decision of the camp’s location. The area’s proximity to the company’s headquarters in Vancouver helped too. 

“We have a deep history here, and we wanted to expand and grow on that,” Patrick Barron, the vice president of corporate citizenship, said on site. 

What is camp like so far? 

Camp Cue is the first camp operator to partner with Telus at the site, and Telus plans to work with multiple camp organizations through the years to offer a range of activities. By 2025, Telus “anticipates the site will host more than 2,000 youth,” the press release said.

Telus paid for five of the 24 youth to attend Camp Cue this season. Next summer, Schnarr said the company will dedicate those five scholarships to Sunshine Coast youth to experience the camp. In 2023, the camp season at Telus Wilderness Point will run from June 1 to August 31, and Telus is “open to exploring partnerships with other camp organizations. Camp Cue is just the beginning,” Barron said.

Camp Cue’s founding directors, Nicole Stevens of Coquitlam and Nicol Spinola of Burnaby, have 20 years of experience in theatre education. This is also their first time running a camp. 

“We really felt like there was a need in the market for a place for musical theatre kids to be musical theatre kids, and also be able to enjoy the experience of outdoor camp,” Spinola said. 

Stevens said they were drawn to the location for its West Coast feel. “Nothing is more West Coast than being on the ocean and being surrounded by mountains. It was everything that we could hope for and more.”

The motto on their website is “Where great performers and the great outdoors meet," and the scheduled activities reflect it. The teens will swim, kayak and hike (and sing around a fire, of course) over the week. Camp Cue’s campers have daily classes in acting, dancing, and music. Special guests — including a Broadway performer — lead workshops. But there’s no big end of camp performance, so the pressure is off and campers can enjoy growing their skills without a deadline.

October Penningroth, a 17-year-old from Mission, attends a fine arts school and joined Camp Cue when posters started lining the walls of his school. Four of his friends came too. When asked what he thinks of camp so far, he said, “I’m loving it.”

For Anna Eliasson, 13 of Fort Langley, the camp opened her up to the world of dance. Even though she says she’s not really a dancer, she said Camp Cue has made it accessible to everyone, and she’s enjoying the learning process.

Aside from the activities, Penningroth said he’s enjoyed the balance of fun in the outdoors. He had seen pictures of the area, but “didn’t even realize how amazing it was going to be here” as he described the view of the water from his cabin’s deck. 

Both of the young teens emphasized building connections with the other campers. “Everyone is so included, and everyone just makes sure that there’s no one being left out,” Eliasson said. 

Now that the first camp is under way at Telus Wilderness Point, Schnarr said, “That feels amazing. We’re so happy, especially talking to the kids and seeing how happy they are.” Telus is also taking feedback from the campers on what they could improve on.

“This is why we’re doing it, ultimately. For the children, for the youth,” Barron said. 

This story has been updated, as a previous version incorrectly stated the marina would also require rezoning. It does not.