Canoe Island French Camp receives help from the community

Canoe Island French Camp, a small nonprofit located between Shaw and Lopez Islands, is currently undertaking several large facility upgrades and additions. From spring until fall, the organization welcomes schools and adults to the island for programming, and hosts its signature overnight youth summer camps. In the winter months, staff tackle large-scale projects. Although this multi-year, ambitious phase of development has proven challenging for several reasons, the large capital improvements have also provided an occasion to partner with the larger San Juan Islands community.

Several of the camp’s recent projects have been implemented with the support of local communities and collaboration with Islanders. The Shaw community, for example, has worked closely with CIFC on the task of replacing Canoe Island’s subsea power cable. The original cable was installed in 1967 between Shaw and Canoe Islands, and the organization has been fundraising for this project for the past two years. Another project that has fostered a partnership between CIFC and the local community is the construction of a greenhouse. This addition was completed in 2020 and received funding from individual Islanders as well as the San Juan Community Foundation.

CIFC’s latest projects involve replacing aging infrastructure. The camp is currently fundraising for a new boat that will replace its fifty-year-old vessel, the Ferry Queen. The new boat is expected to cost over $300,000, and will have an aluminum hull, as well as twin outboard engines. Another major milestone to be completed this winter is a deck replacement. Constructed around a building called Le Château Beauregard, the deck is thirty years old and made from old or second growth cedar. Its replacement will be built from cedar felled and milled on Canoe Island. Further, the new design is a near-replica of the old structure; these choices preserve the beautiful architecture of a historically important building.

The final upcoming project on Canoe Island is to replace the roofs of two main lodge buildings. To complete this improvement, CIFC is pleased to have partnered with Fly Guys Construction. Owner Austin Reese donated $10,000 of their profits to benefit our organization. The project involved replacing nearly thirty-year-old cedar shake with metal roofing material. This material is more fire-resistant and ecologically sustainable, and has a much longer lifespan. The roofs were just completed in time for students and guests to arrive on the island for programming.

CIFC has fortunately been able to overcome several challenges in pursuing these major upgrades and additions. For construction projects, the remoteness of Canoe Island makes it difficult to hire contractors, their transportation to and from the island adding a layer of complexity. And with the recent construction boom in the San Juans, contractors have extremely limited availability. To cope with these complications, CIFC primarily relies on in-house labor. Executive Director Ben Straub, and Island Caretaker Dusty Caldwell, perform all maintenance and facilities upkeep, and complete the majority of construction projects. In addition to replacing the deck, the two of them will assist with the roof replacements.

CIFC has also persevered through the Covid-19 pandemic to complete each of these recent facility improvements. The pandemic brought newfound financial and practical challenges to the organization, and community support has proven instrumental in overcoming them. Local Islanders have participated in programs, donated to the camp, and partnered with CIFC on multiple projects, all of which have allowed the nonprofit to sustain momentum throughout its period of construction and facilities renewal.