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The Annual Gull Lake Survey Camp Reunion

By Colin Anderson

A quiet weekend in September makes the sleepy cottages, glassy lakes, and rolling verdant hills of Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes seem very distant from the bustling downtown campus of the University of Toronto. While it may be far removed from the city lights, beautiful Gull Lake has been central to the U of T Civil Engineering student experience for generations.

Gull Lake is home to the University of Toronto’s Survey Camp, a multi-week field-training program that challenges students to overcome the adversity of unpredictable, real-world field situations. In this outdoor classroom, Civil Engineering students learn to solve the most challenging Engineering problems by working with their classmates’ diverse strengths and abilities. The camp has been bringing students together since the 1920’s.

On Saturday, Sept. 13, this special place had some very special visitors. The Annual Gull Lake Survey Camp Reunion is more than a social gathering: it is a pilgrimage for dozens of alumni who remember Camp as the galvanizing moment in their University careers. 

“This place has built a community of learners within our Department,” said Kim Pressnail, Professor of Building Engineering. “And that kind of cooperative philosophy is vital to the success of any real-world project.” 

The lifelong friendships forged at camp are evident as one strolls the cottage-style rooms and wooded trails that make up the site. Classes have recorded their experiences with group monuments for decades—signing walls, painting ceiling trusses, even casting their handprints in concrete. Recent donations to Friends of Survey Camp have been used to build a canoe shed and refurbish the common room in Stewart Hall. It all gives the Survey Camp a profound sense of history and engagement in the larger community of Civil Engineers.

This year’s reunion had campers sharing stories, laughs, and memories across six decades. Classmates reconnected, vintage photos were shared, and new photos taken. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones were formed as campers sat down to eat in the same place they first came together years before.


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