Camping, then and now

Paul Smith
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Plenty has changed in Newfoundland since that wonderful song was written and first performed by Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers.

This is a budget campsite, but it has a million-dollar view. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram

The typical camping demographic has metamorphosed into an almost unrecognizable recreational phenomenon. I shudder, question, and wonder when I hear it called camping. There must be a better descriptor — weekending at the trailer park, or something like that.

The new camping, if we can indeed legitimately call it camping, is best described as getting away from one’s principle residence and spending a few days somewhere else in a typically very well equipped mobile home.

There is usually little, if any, deterioration of modern amenities; in fact, some trailers are better equipped than many homes.

Ranging from 24 to more than 40 feet in length, these modern trailers offer the discriminating outdoor recreation enthusiast everything from hi-def TV and surround sound to swivel lounging chairs and ultra-modern kitchen amenities.

For the sake of a fit and succinct descriptor, we might well call it New Age gravel pit camping, although I’m quite sure that’s not what the Buddy Wasisname boys had in mind. Now you pay to park in the gravel pit; no more of that free stuff.

I did a bit of reading and noted what the all-knowing Wikipedia had to say about camping. The definition is very broad, so in that respect the new RV camping phenomenon is probably, depending on location, a form of camping, albeit on the ultra-right-wing end of the spectrum.

According to Wikipedia, everything from sleeping on the forest floor under the stars to travelling the country in a modern RV is camping. The key and fundamental element, the essence of the whole affair, is enjoyment of nature and spending the night and taking one’s meals in the midst of natural grandeur.

Some of the new trailer parks are questionable in the grandeur arena, but that’s a matter of taste and opinion. I think also there’s a social aspect to camping that permeates all but the hardest core forms and practitioners.

Solo trekkers seeking to find themselves aside, most of us go camping with the notion of spending time with friends and family a high priority.


The gravel pit camping of the ’70s and ’80s, that which I imagine inspired the very popular 24th of May tune, was a wonderfully free-spirited, gypsy sort of affair. Folks loaded up the kids and critters in cars, trucks and station wagons, and, with trailers in tow, would head out of cities and towns to camp for free wherever a berth could be found.

There were plenty of provincial parks in those days, and the fees for splendid campsites were more than reasonable. They were often filled on weekends, and for sure throughout the Victoria Day holiday.

Folks had to camp somewhere so they did what wanderers and nomads have done for thousands of years; they camped for free on Mother Earth, often conveniently where road builders had excavated a pit.

Maybe there’s something special about camping on our native land and not forking out a toll. Not that a chap or gal hasn’t the coin in one’s pocket, but on principle alone there’s satisfaction in the nomadic gypsy way, even if only for a few warm weekends in summer. There’s not much free anymore.

The New Age gravel pit campers pay mucho dinero to park their modern RVs on a campsite for the summer, often in the thousands of dollars for a decent spot in one of the many private parks that have surfaced here and there throughout our land.

Many of our older and very naturally lovely provincial parks have been sold by government to private ownership.

Those lovely, tree-covered campsites near pretty ponds have been bulldozed to make room for 40-foot trailers to park side by side.

It’s the modern way, I suppose, but I’m just questioning our collective wisdom.

Has this been the best transformation? I think we might have found a better balance.

It’s not as easy as it once was to find a nice spot to pitch a tent. In the ’80s, one could park a small camper or pitch a family tent by a pond filled with trout in a provincial park.

You’d be hemmed in by trees and enjoy a private campfire, lulled by the waves on your canoe hull as the sun set in the west. This possibility is now rare.

It’s time for me to stop with the philosophy and questioning of camping preferences.

The world is what it is. Folks apparently have more disposable income and buy themselves luxurious homes away from home.

Business folks have responded in the true entrepreneurial spirit and provided a place for a price to set up camp and enjoy the outdoors.

And so it goes

So that’s it. If it’s not your cup of tea you are free to buy a small tow camper or tent and set up wherever the law allows.

Some nice campsites have survived the bulldozers in some private parks, and I think the federal parks have maintained some consideration for those desiring to sleep under canvas.

Or you could just hike in the woods and set up a tent wherever you see fit on Crown land. Thank God we still have that option.

The big camping, outdoor, trouting weekend has finally arrived. It has been a very long winter.

No matter what your mode of camping, it’s time to get out there and enjoy time with friends and family. Take a kid fishing, paddle a canoe, cast a fly rod. Do something outside the house and stay away from computers, video games and TVs.

By the way, I’m trying not to seem judgmental, but if I were one of you guys with a big modern trailer, I’d disconnect the big screens and turn off the Wi-Fi.

Tell the kids it’s all out of order and bring along a few board games. I remember when our kids

were small. We had some wicked Monopoly games in that old hardtop camper.

My God, how I love the smell of canvas.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

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