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Romuva and northern Ontario

Nearly all Lithuanian-Canadian heritage is concentrated in the short strip of Ontario and Quebec close to the US border, where the main cities are.

As time passed, however, urban Lithuanians often sought for a place in the pristine countryside of Canada, thus creating their own camps, resorts, and country clubs in the forests some 200-300 kilometers north of Toronto.

The most famous of such Lithuanian resorts Wasaga Beach is described in a separate article, together with nearby Midland.

Lithuanian-related sites further north from Wasaga Beach are the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp, Lithuanian hunters club and Wilno town, named after Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

Romuva camp gate

Romuva camp gate

Romuva Lithuanian Scout Camp

Romuva is a league of its own: a piece of truly Lithuanian countryside amidst beautiful Canadian forests 230 km north of Toronto, on the shores of Fox Lake.

Beginning at a beautiful wooden gate, the area includes numerous Lithuanian memorials, as well as pretty vistas. Every building here has something Lithuanian in it – at least a Lithuanian name.

The most famous monument in the Romuva camp is the Romuva camp gate, built in 1970. It became a symbol of the camp.

Top of the Romuva gate

Top of the Romuva gate

Dedication on the gate says 'Lithuanians we are born' (a text from the famous song) and 'For the scouting youth'

Dedication on the gate says 'Lithuanians we are born' (a text from the famous song) and 'For the scouting youth'. It is signed by Stasys Kuzmas and his wife Genovaitė Kuzmas, important benefactors of Romuva who also participated in designing the gate

Romuva was developed in the 1960s as a camp for Lithuanian Scouts. In comparison to other Canadian scouts, Lithuanian scouts have an additional goal of promoting the Lithuanian heritage. Scouts who came here were meant to have an opportunity to speak Lithuanian and meet other Lithuanians. Only here (and in the USA) could the idea of Lithuanian scouting be passed onto the next generation: Lithuania itself was occupied by the Soviet Union at the time (1940-1990) and being a boy scout was sometimes a death sentence there.

Main Hall of the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp of Canada

Main Hall of the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp of Canada

The main scout camps continue every year (a week in the summer with some 150 campers) but Romuva also attracts Lithuanians outside of these times for spending time in nature, angling, and other activities. Even in the deep Canadian winter they would come here and build temporary shelters in the snow.

Morning at Romuva with Fox lake visible

Morning at Romuva with Fox lake visible

Even outside the main, the Lithuanian atmosphere is created by all the history and monuments here. A cross erected in 1972 is dedicated to the Lithuanian sea scouts who celebrated their 50th anniversary then. The flag square includes a memorial with cross erected prior to 1970s for the Lithuanian scouts who died in wars. In the square during the camping days, the flags are raised: nearly always the Lithuanian and Canadian flags and also the flags of any other countries Lithuanians had come to camp from (often the USA, sometimes Australia).

Romuva flag square

Romuva flag square

Sea scouts jubilee cross in Romuva camp

Sea scouts jubilee cross in Romuva camp

There is also a Map of Lithuania land art monument: the map here is not that of Lithuania today but that of Lithuania in 1918-1940 that the builders of Romuva hoped to once restore.

Map of Lithuania (top) with Lithuania flag-colored steps leading to it

Map of Lithuania (top) with Lithuania flag-colored steps leading to it

The camp name Romuva means a Lithuanian pagan temple: while most Lithuanian scouts are Roman Catholics, the history of Lithuanians being the final Pagan country in Europe is still important.

The camp includes multiple buildings. The main hall of Romuva (the only larger building in the camp) is adorned with many artworks, each one of them created by one of the campers of one of the past summer camps. Each summer thus one additional artwork is created and left in the hall for the future generations of the scouts and others who use Romuva. Thus, the main hall also serves as a kind of museum of the camp.

Main Hall of the Romuva camp

Main Hall of the Romuva camp

Interior of the main hall of Romuva, filled with flags, posters, bas-reliefs and other artworks created in the decades by the participants of the summer camps

Interior of the main hall of Romuva, filled with flags, posters, bas-reliefs and other artworks created in the decades by the participants of the summer camps

An example of camp artwork in Romuva

An example of camp artwork in Romuva

Romuva also has several houses where people can lodge, 12 people per house. They are named after Lithuanian localities. However, this being a scout camp, most of the campers actually live in tents in numerous sub-camps located in pretty natural landscapes around the area, so some 100-250 people camp there in total every summer. Originally, the summer camp used to take two weeks but has been reduced to one week.

A house in Romuva called Vilnius (after the capital of Lithuania)

A house in Romuva called Vilnius (after the capital of Lithuania)

The camp territory is, however, locked when no one is there and could be visited only if a time is arranged.

There is also a boat shed with a symbol of Lithuanian sea scouts.

Lithuanian sea scout symbol on the boat shed

Lithuanian sea scout symbol on the boat shed

The total area of Romuva is 80 acres (31 ha) and it includes 300 meters of lakeshore. Much of the landscape here has been created by Lithuanians, with some trees removed, additional ones planted creating an atmosphere of a cozy park by the lake.

Wilno, Ontario

Wilno is en-route from Romuva to Ottawa.

Wilno – the name of this town – is actually the Polish name of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. While small, Wilno (Ontario) is actually the biggest foreign location named after Vilnius.

Wilno tavern

Wilno tavern

The town has been named Wilno because its founder, Ludwik Dembski, hailed from the Polish-speaking community of Vilnius. He refused to have the town named after himself and so it was named after his hometown.

Wilno sign

Wilno sign

Most of the settlers of Wilno were actually from a very different part of Poland – Kashubia (near Gdansk). Kashubs are actually a unique minority within Poland and thus some things in the town are now written in three languages: English, Polish, and Kashub. Wilno is proud of its heritage and billed as the oldest Polish settlement in Canada.

Trilingual inscriptions in Wilno

Trilingual inscriptions in Wilno

Wilno St. Mary of Czestochowa church is the oldest Polish parish in Canada (the church itself dates to the interwar era, however). It also pays homage to Vilnius, as its interior houses the key Catholic figures associated with the city: Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn (Our Lady of Vilnius) image, Divine Mercy image (the originals of both are in Vilnius), as well as St. Faustina Kowalska image. St. Faustina was a Pole who, while residing in Vilnius (Lithuania), received visions from Jesus Christ that ended up in the creation of Divine Mercy painting.

Our Lady of Vilnius and Divine Mecy in the Wilno's church

Our Lady of Vilnius and Divine Mecy in the Wilno's church

Wilno also has a Skansen of Polish-Kashub heritage. The wooden farmsteads are actually not that different from those of Lithuania. Like Lithuania, the Wilno area is proud of its wooden wayside crosses.

A fragment of Wilno's skansen

A fragment of Wilno's skansen

A traditional house in Wilno

A traditional house in Wilno

Wilno was established in 1858 and a lot reminds the Poland-Lithuania area of the time.

The map of Lithuanian-Canadian sites

All the Lithuanian-Canadian locations are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Canada Lithuanian sites

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