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Twitter gets outside: A real-life meet up of Online friends

A few weeks ago, I told you about a little get together that was happening in Algonquin Park this month.  A group of outdoor enthusiasts, bloggers, photographers, story-tellers and social media enthusiasts who had become part of an online community called #mywildcanada decided it was time to take our Twitter conversations outside where they really belong and meet "for real".


And that is how the first-ever Twitter Camp was held at Algonquin Provincial Park's Canisbay Lake Campground.

Black canoe covered in fall leaves

Before we had our meet-up at the park, we used the Twitter Camp idea to raise a few dollars for the MEC Big Wild Challenge.  In total, we were able to contribute over $200 to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) through the Big Wild Challenge.

So, what happens when a bunch of people who had only ever met online get together in person? In our case, a campfire is lit, stories are told and a lot of laughs are shared. And a social media network of people burst into a true, real-life community made up of new real-life friendships.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous the day we were all supposed to meet.  Would I really like these people? Sure, we have a common passion for getting outdoors. But some of them are hard-core, back-country enthusiasts and we mostly camp in a trailer in campgrounds. Sure, we can talk about trails hiked, parks visited and lakes paddled. But would there be that awkward silence that happens when a conversation moves onto other things like work, family, and life outside of our outdoor pursuits? We were a group of all ages from diverse backgrounds living in cities, rural towns, off-grid cabins. Some of us have kids. Some don't. Some have dogs. Some don't. Would we really fill an entire evening with conversation?

YES! I really liked the folks we met. YES! We had stuff to talk about beyond our camping, hiking and paddling experiences. NO! There weren't any awkward silences.  But truly, our outdoor stories were the main topic of conversation and everyone liked it that way.  I felt like I was among old friends and our ages, backgrounds day jobs and the places we live just didn't matter.  The campsite and campfire were as comfortable a backdrop to this group as any kitchen-party at your best friend's house.  Alex and Emma joined me at the party, and while they aren't Twitter users they were welcomed into the group and embraced along with the others.  In fact, when we arrived at the host campsite we were all greeted with hugs from Celine - the matriarch of My Wild Canada - as though we had finally made it home after being away for too long.

We had already met Matt and Andy from Paddle In earlier in the day, when they stopped by our campsite to make an introduction.  I was so excited to meet them because Matt is also from Guelph.  Can you believe it? A blogger and outdoorsman who lives in the same city as me, and we'd never met? I know. Crazy.

And then there was Ashley from @levacas and Jennifer from @LegendaryAdven and Kathy from @tnkcanoe... We met so many people I can't even name them all.  At one count, 24 people shared the campfire that night.

Alex, who can be on the quiet side, made great friends with Celine's husband Gerry. I could say that their friendship was cemented through a fine bottle of maple whiskey we brought along to the meet-up.  But I really think it was the feeling of fellowship that brought my quiet husband out of his shell and had him chatting with all the Twitter Campers.

And Emma, my beautiful but sometimes-reluctant outdoor child, represented the next generation of outdoors people by quietly taking-in the laughter and stories of this group of adults who were acting like kids at camp.  She was the only kid at Twitter Camp, but everyone behaved themselves and welcomed her into the party like one of their own.

A highlight of our get together was the appearance of the spirit of Tom Thomson - the iconic artist whose paintings were inspired by the beauty of Algonquin Park and who died on Algonquin's Canoe Lake. How did a spirit get in on the Twitter Camp action?  Twitter star @TTLastSpring joined the group to read a few of (the real) Tom Thomson's journal entries and paint a picture through words of life in Algonquin and Toronto in 1917, the year of the artist's death.

We had all been looking forward to meeting @TTLastSpring.  He has been tweeting as Tom Thomson since November, 2011 and has developed a dedicated following.  Through his tweets and his blog, he has generated a renewed buzz about the famous artist and his mysterious death. In fact, it is through the social media efforts of @TTLastSpring that Alex and I learned about Tom Thomson beyond knowing his name as an artist. And as a result we have also learned more about Ontario history than I ever learned in school. Even nine year-old Emma has become hooked on the story of Tom and his mysterious death, which we told her last year while sitting on the shore of Canoe Lake. (Because really, what is camping without a really good, scary story?)

For over an hour, Tom enchanted all of us around the campfire.



@TTLastSpring is a real person, but when it was time for him to leave he quietly disappeared into the night and we still don't know his real name. The mystery of Tom Thomson remains and, even though we know what he looks like, so does the mystery of @TTLastSpring.

The spirit of Tom Thomson may have went quietly into the night, but the Twitter Campers did not. As it was time to head back to our own campsite, there was still much chatter and laughter around the campfire.  And the chatter and laughter is still happening, back in the online world. But there is something a little different.  A little better. For many of us, there are faces and real names behind the Twitter handles now.  As the #mywildcanada community grows, I hope there will be more meet-ups in the future giving even more people the opportunity to get together.

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