Canoe Island – Parlez-vous Français?

Winter sailing? You betcha! Snowflakes, like feathers from heaven, fell from the sky and blanketed our sailboat anchored on the west side of Canoe Island. Imagine evergreen trees flocked in white and the island’s rocky shoreline fringed with frost. Seabirds call to one another in the quiet bay shared with Shaw Island, where one can row ashore to Shaw Island County Park and amble the beach. Our first visit to the San Juan Islands in the snow remains a fond memory. Breathtaking!


Photo Credit: Washington State Dept. of Ecology

Canoe Island is located in the center of the San Juan Islands on Upright Channel, a waterway separating Lopez and Shaw Islands. It took us several years before we discovered that the owners of this private 49-acre island ran a summer French camp for children.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Canoe Island French Camp

Desiring to send their daughter to a French camp and finding none on the West Coast in 1969, Dr. Warren Austin and his wife, Florence Heath Horton Austin, founded Canoe Island French Camp on Orcas Island. Six years later, the camp moved to its permanent home on Canoe Island. In 1992, the camp became a non-profit organization run by a board of directors and led by an Executive Director and a Camp Director. CIFC is accredited by the American Camp Association and is a member of the Western Association of Independent Camps.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Summer Fun with a French Accent”

Children, ages 9 to 16 years old, learn the language and culture of French-speaking regions around the world in a semi-immersion environment. They participate in fun, artistic and outdoor, traditional Northwest camp activities. A typical day involves attending language classes in the morning, before applying the new vocabulary and grammar skills to other activities like ceramics, fencing, kayaking, photography, and snorkeling. Meals are a French culinary experience. The entire camp enjoys campfires on the beach, treasure hunts, theater in the Longhouse, and games in the evenings.


Children playing croquet

Approximately 50 campers attend each session with 4-5 campers living in tipis according to age. Counselors place the children in French language classes by ability. Many of them leave their two-week or three-week camps with increased self-awareness, greater independence, and new friends. The camp also holds sessions for families, offers cooking classes, and schedules work parties throughout the year. Click here for more information about Canoe Island French Camp.

Three other favorite overnight camps for children exist in the San Juan Islands. Camp Nor’wester (see my post on Johns Island), YMCA Camp Orkila (Orcas Island) and Camp Four Winds Westward Ho (Orcas Island).

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 – NKJV)

I attended a Girl Scout camp with my sister. We stayed in a Conestoga wagon (without wheels) with two other girls. We felt like we were real Oregon Trail pioneers! Did you go to a camp when you were a child? What is your fondest memory?

Thank you for reading!





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2 Responses to Canoe Island – Parlez-vous Français?

  1. Richard Poole says:

    Loved the couple of stops I and my Brother made onto uninhabited Canoe island, during early spring kayaking adventures years back. Will forever enjoy the amazing sight that we beheld on the floor of the cylindrical stone structure that showed the salmon’s movement through Puget Sound and area. Truly a special place.

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