I had the privilege this summer of attending the Diefenbaker Canada Centre’s Summer Camps. These camps are two separate weeklong day camps, each with a separate (but related) political theme. The first camp, held in July, was Decisions That Count and the second, held in August, was A Century of Conflict. The camps are for students between grades 5 and 9.

In Decisions That Count, campers were given a crash course in Canadian history and large political themes that continue to shape our present and future. They learned about relations with Indigenous peoples, Confederation, the evolution of French Canada, and environmental issues, among other topics. While the campers undoubtedly learned about aspects of these topics in school, this camp provided an opportunity to delve into them further, ask questions, and explore ideas.

In A Century of Conflict, the campers learned about the various wars, proxy wars, social movements, and peacekeeping efforts that Canada has participated over the last 100 years. While the First and Second World Wars were definitely a highlight, the campers also learned about Canada’s role in the Cold War and modern peacekeeping efforts. Interest in military history drew the campers in, but they also learned about the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and other similar topics.

Both camps offered the campers the opportunity to learn about their rights and powers as Canadian citizens. Often, we can get through our mandatory schooling without learning about how the government works, why it works the way it does, how it might have been different, and what role international affairs plays in our personal lives. We can take for granted our ability to vote and frequently grumble that our vote counts for very little – or indeed nothing – but we still have the right. We can look at politics as an inconvenience or a nuisance; we can consider politicians to be liars, but it is nonetheless important to understand why they seem that way.

The campers at these two camps learned that it is not as simple as making promises and fulfilling them. They learned that history was not simple and that they could not take these rights for granted. Hopefully some of the facts and skills that they learned will stick with them into the future and they will maintain friendships from across different schools.