Louis Gyori | 1952-2010 - Macleans.ca

Louis Gyori | 1952-2010

His life came into focus at a young age: he would become the owner of a summer camp, and teach kids how to water ski


Illustration by Juliana Neufeld

Louis Gyori was born on April 28, 1952, in Toronto. His parents, Louis Sr. and Emmilia, were immigrants from Hungary who established a lucrative sod farm in Keswick, Ont., called Royal Sod. Their only child helped out with the family business in the summers, and by the time he was 12, his parents sent him off to camp. Those early years outdoors made a great impression on the boy, and shaped the course of his life.

At De La Salle Camp on the shores of Lake Simcoe at Jackson’s Point, Ont., Louis was promoted to waterfront staff within a few summers. The round-faced kid—charismatic and always laughing—loved sports, and excelled at them. In particular, Louis enjoyed water-skiing, and co-founded the camp’s water-ski program with another camper. Together, they’d pull more than 100 skiers a day, and called their 16-foot boat “Ski-Lou.”

In 1973, when Louis graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, his dream for his future was cemented: all he wanted in life was to own his own camp with a lake at the centre where he could teach water-skiing. To make that a reality, for about six years he sold educational books door-to-door. “His objective with that job was to raise the equity to start a children’s camp,” says Craig Dickson, a lifelong friend. Louis became a leading salesman at the company, living frugally and saving money.

His heart, however, held him back a bit. He had a problem with high cholesterol, and at the age of 29 suffered his first massive heart attack—even though he was a champion water-skier in peak physical condition. To circumvent these troubles, Louis made lifestyle adjustments, and changed to a low-fat diet with lots of vegetables. But his cholesterol remained high.

By 1979, Louis had enough money to purchase a camp near Bancroft, Ont. There, he lived year-round in one of the cabins to save money while he set up his business. In 1981, he opened Camp Can-Ski, with eight campers. First, Louis focused on water-skiing, but eventually, with hundreds of boys and girls heading to the Haliburton Highlands to spend their summers, Louis broadened the scope of his operation, renaming it Camp Can-Aqua and adding sailing and canoeing, among other activities. Instilling “soft” skills—how to win gracefully and show respect—was just as important to Louis as athletic excellence. One long-time camper turned counsellor, Ben Liston, says, “The majority of staff training was about how to talk to the kids, and foster confidence in them.”

As his friends say, the camp was his life’s opus. The original three buildings on his 200 acres of land (with a lake in the middle, of course) turned into 30, all built by Louis. Campers came from all over the world, and one secret that emerged recently was that, each summer, Louis sponsored about five kids from underprivileged local families.

Despite his success, Louis enjoyed a simple lifestyle, living on the camp in a log cabin. Al King, a camp counsellor and facilities manager at Can-Aqua for the last 12 years, says, “In his home, he had antiques and things we had built together.” One surprising exception to his rustic lifestyle was a colourful collection of muscle cars. “The more brightly coloured the car was, the better,” says Al.

Since 1991, Louis also ran a maple syrup business. It evolved from a traditional operation of 30 tap buckets to more than 3,000 taps on a pipeline. “He was always looking for ways to improve the camp, expand his maple bush, or concoct an elaborate prank on a friend or a staff member,” says Ben. Louis would often say “Shoot the puck”—get it done. In fact, his current partner, Patricia De Villiers (he had married twice previously), says he never left anything unfinished.

Over the years, though, his health problems had persisted. By 2004, he had his second open-heart surgery. After that, there were multiple angioplasties. But he didn’t let a bad heart stop him: Louis would even bike the 100 km to his cardiologist in Peterborough.

On Sept. 5, days after camp had shut down for the summer, Louis was demonstrating his barefoot water-skiing abilities, instructing friends in his favourite sport. It was a cool, breezy day, so the group retreated to the sauna. When Louis stood up to leave, he collapsed. The staff, trained in first-aid response, could not resuscitate him. He was 58. His camp will continue to operate.

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Louis Gyori | 1952-2010

  1. Having known Loius over a 4 year period in the 90's all I can say is that his death is a great loss to a large multitude of indivduals. He has served as a tremendous role model, a true visionary for a generation of individuals. Hopefully his values will live on through those he met, taught and impressed, myself included.

  2. I was a counsellor at Lou's camp for two years and really enjoyed and appreciated his straightforward style, positive can-do attitude and his love of having some good, old fashioned fun.

    I really hope he is resting in peace and knows how many lives he touched in such a positive way.

  3. My life is infinitely richer for this man having spent time on earth – I owe my best friends and fondest memories to his existence. Cheers Lou, to a life very well spent.

  4. After spending 6 years as a camper at Camp Can-Aqua and two years as a counselor I can't even begin to describe the massive change that Camp Can-Aqua and Lou have made on my life. He is an incredible man whose vision and memory is permanently set into the minds of hundreds of campers and all of the staff.

  5. Anyone who knew Louis knows he will always be a part of their lives. He instilled confidence in people by truly believing in them. He has created some amazing leaders in this world. He will be truly missed. Thank you Lou, you'll never be forgotten.

  6. From camper to LIT, to water-ski instructor at his camp…
    This man had a direct and enormously positive impact on my life growing up. Would that I may have half the influence over so many children and their journey into adulthood.
    Godspeed, Lou. You are missed.

  7. Words cannot describe how Louis has impacted my life….
    From the age of 8 until 20, when I left camp, I had been largely impacted by his dash.
    I am 30 now, and the things i learned at camp, continuously ripple through my life in too many ways to count.
    So who would I be without Louis?…that's a hard question to answer…I don't know.
    So thank you Louis… may your infectious chuckle never be forgotten, and your ripple continue on….

  8. Lou created a paradise for kids. I have gone to that camp since i was 7 years old. I am now 15 and supposed to be an L.I.T. next summer. Lou made a home away from home for me and I hate leaving every year. I will miss him dearly and thank him for making an amazing camp and making me a better person. May you walk with Wakanda the Great Spirit and watch upon on us. Your ripple affect was amazing and it will never stop. Thanks for being an amazing person

  9. I went to camp starting at the age of 9. I was a small girl who was scared of everything. Lou changed my life, he made me a more outgoing person, made me fall in love with the forests and building fires. But the most important thing was that he brought me closer to my brothers. I was a camper for 8 years and learned everything from how to build a fire and stern a canoe to knowing about how our actions can better a persons life(the ripple effect). When it was time for me to move on and become a JRC and 1st year staff Lou taught me how I could change a campers life and get them to open up and grow as a person. All of the things that Lou taught me at camp I had never imagined i would just from going to a small little camp.

    Thank you Lou for changing my life and making a better person. I will never forget you and your Ripple is never ending.

  10. Every year at Lou's candle-lighting ceremony, dozens of kids would stand before the camp and say that that summer had been the best of their lives. Every time it was true. Thanks Lou, for making every summer I spent at Camp Can-Aqua the best summer of my life, and for teaching me lessons will extend beyond those ten incredible summers.

  11. Both of our girls were campers with Louis for many years, this year our youngest was a JRC. Louis has made an enormous impression on both girls and a lasting impression on our family. Each year, upon their return from camp, there was a renewed sense of loyalty and friendship that was fostered in them. The friends they made at camp were free from the buzz of cell phones and computers – they relied instead on face to face communication and trust. This was the legacy of Louis that will long be remembered and cherished by every family that had the good fortune to send their child to Louis' camp.

  12. Lou, and Can-Aqua were a part of my life for 9 wonderful years, and still now as a mother had hoped to send my children there. My heart is with all the staff and everyone still involved with such an amazing haven. To forget all life's worries, and just be yourself. Lou def. created a ripple effect…that I hope keeps going for many moons from now. I pray he is where he wants to be now, and in a better place. Rest in peace Lou ~ You are missed.

  13. It’s been almost 5 years and I think of Lou often. As a shy and anxious young person I was often lost in a dark place between who I wanted to be and the person others wanted me to be, camp changed that for me. It was the first place I felt safe, comfortable and secure, it was a home to me and I know it was to many others as well. Louis sat with me and we just talked he helped me feel confident in my abilities and even believed in me enough to ask me to work at his camp. During one of the most difficult summers of my life he allowed me to return mid-summer, a small gesture but it was life saving for me.
    Louis Gyori is someone who will never be forgotten, his legacy lives on in all the people he helped, even when he didn’t know he was helping. You are never forgotten.