Originally known as Kinderland, it was established as a children's camp in 1925 by the Jewish Women's Labour League (the women's auxiliary of the Jewish Labour League Mutual Benefit Society). The Women's League was described as a "pro-Bolshevik" labour group, made up primarily of garment workers. They leased some property at Eldorado Mills, along the Credit River. The Canadian National Railway (CNR) owned the land in the early years, at the south west edge of Brampton in the Credit River valley.
In 1936 the League attempted to purchase about 103 acres (0.42 km2) of the property. The CNR was openly resistant to selling to Jewish organizations and even posted vicious anti-Semitic signs at the entrance, warning "No Jews or Dogs Allowed" to discourage the land purchase. However, the property was acquired through an individual not directly linked to the League, then transferred to them.
The United Jewish Peoples' Order (UJPO) was founded in 1945 through a merger of the Labour League and other radical Jewish organizations and has operated and managed the camp ever since.
The children's camp remained in operation as an overnight camp until 1962 and as a day camp until 1971 serving up to 300 children each summer. A family-oriented adult campground that was used mostly on weekends and holidays developed adjacent to the children's camp that, at its peak, contained 90 cottages as well as room for tents. It is in this form that the camp continues to the present day.
Political and cultural history
Camp Naivelt (meaning "New World" in Yiddish) was essentially a volunteer, summer, youth camp for Jewish working-class families. It was referred to as a "Worker's Children Camp" and promoted Jewish culture and leftist political ideals. The Camp was described as:
- reflecting a secular, non-Zionist, socialist perspective. It was a community of like-minded, working class people, largely in the needle-trade. There were people who were active in union affairs and, yes, there were people who followed the Communist line.
A radical, Communist element was always part of the Park's early history. Canadian Communist Party leader Tim Buck sometimes spoke there. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitored activities and goings-on there from time to time through the late 1940s and 1950s. The Mounties were known to 'stake out' the park entrance, recording license plate numbers of those entering for public events.
A key function of Camp Naivelt was to promote the peace movement, social justice and labour rights, and to increase awareness of these issues among youth. Another principal aim was to give urban youth respite from the grime and heat of downtown Toronto. It also served as a refuge for children facing the threat of polio infection every summer.
When purchased the camp contained a merry-go-round and a meeting hall from the early years of Eldorado Park. Initially only tents were used for the campers. Later permanent frame cottages clad in insulbrick or clapboard were constructed. In the 1940s the UJPO built a band shell, boathouse, swimming pool and two bridges over the Credit River. At one point some 90 cottages were on the property. In the 1970s the present Eldorado Park was established when a portion of Camp Naivelt was sold to the City of Brampton.
Several dozen rustic frame cottages remain standing through the site; some arranged around large, open common areas and others in rows. These structures retain most of their original character-defining elements such as original wooden windows, doors and cladding (e.g. clapboard, insulbrick and shiplap siding). The cottages and setting form a significant and unique cultural heritage landscape in the City of Brampton.
Camp Naivelt has a deep and meaningful role to play in the exploration of Jewish cultural history in Canada. Jewish folklore, the Yiddish language, music, folk art and dance were studied at the Camp.
Contributions to the history of music in Canada
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Perhaps Camp Naivelt's most significant heritage attribute is its long and vibrant association with Canada's musical heritage.
For example, the founding members of Canada's best-known folk group, The Travellers, met as children at Camp Naivelt and formed the group there. Their version of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land is a virtual Canadian anthem.
The tape also features the young voice of another Naivelt attendee, Sharon Hampson, later a member of the children's group Sharon, Lois and Bram.
Singer, songwriter, Eddie Schwartz who wrote, Hit Me With Your Best Shot for rock star Pat Benatar also went to Camp Naivelt as a child.
Estelle Klein, the first artistic director of the Mariposa Folk Festival was another alumnus of Camp Naivelt.
Legendary American folk singer Pete Seeger (1919–2014), who composed, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, If I Had A Hammer, the civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome and Turn, Turn, Turn performed at Camp Naivelt on several occasions - sometimes with a folk group he and Woody Guthrie (composer of This Land is Your Land) formed in the 1940s called "The Almanac Singers". Seeger would visit the Camp for several days at a time from the 1940s to the 1980s.
Seeger co-founded the legendary folk group, "The Weavers". Their rendition of Goodnight Irene was a major pop hit in the 1950s. In the 1955 he, along with other members of "The Weavers", were blacklisted after Seeger refused to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In the 1960s Seeger sparked the revival of American folk music. Pete Seeger provided major hit records for Peter, Paul and Mary, "The Byrds", Joan Baez and "The Kingston Trio". Seeger is a two-time Grammy award winner. In 1994 he was given the nation's highest artistic award as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of the Arts. In 1996 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Paul Robeson (1898-1976), the great American baritone, stage and film actor and political activist, also visited Camp Naivelt and performed there. Like Seeger, he too faced persecution during era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, HUAC and "red-baiting" for his support of the Soviet Union, civil rights and labour unions. Robeson is best known for his performances in the musical, Show Boat and Shakespeare's Othello.
American folk singer Phil Ochs, best known for the 'protest song' I Ain't A March'n Anymore visited Camp Naivelt and held an impromptu performance.
In 2010 Brampton City Council passed a heritage designation bylaw under the Ontario Heritage Act, recognizing Camp Naivelt's significant cultural heritage value. Camp Naivelt's historical and cultural associations are documented in the Heritage Designation report. For example, the report includes photographs of Pete Seeger visiting in the 1950s. The York University's Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections has extensive photographic material on Camp Naivelt from the Sam and Manya Lipshitz fonds.
- United Jewish Peoples' Order
- Morris Winchevsky School
- Toronto Jewish Folk Choir
- Heritage Designation Report, Camp Naivelt; City of Brampton (2010)
- Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, York University Libraries