Helen Mason has been camping in Ontario provincial parks for almost four decades but has never had something like this happen: While visiting a friend away from the campsite, someone showed up and stole all of her belongings — from her tent and grill to the food she'd packed for her trip.
"I've been camping in provincial parks for 39 years, since I was 13 years old, and I've never had anything stolen from a campsite, not so much as a tent peg or anything out of the cooler. It didn't even cross my mind," said Oakville, Ont., resident Mason, who was on a solo camping trip in Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron.
"I had no idea someone would have the guts to just drive up and pack up my entire campsite."
Mason arrived at the Pinery the night of April 29, set up her tents and built herself a nice campfire. That Sunday, an old friend called and asked her to visit.
Mason returned the next day to find almost everything gone.
"I thought my tent had blown away, because you could really see my bright red tent when you're driving into the campsite and I couldn't see it. Then I got closer and got out of my car, and I slowly realized that absolutely everything I had brought camping had disappeared, from my tent to my clothes, my kitchen tent and all the belongings in them."
Although campsite thefts happen occasionally, ones this large are unheard of, said Mark Custers, the Pinery's superintendent.
"Never to this scale. Usually people steal smaller items, a cooler with alcohol in it," he said.
Campsite thefts 'rarely' happen
The theft violates an unspoken rule in camping, an honour system that people don't steal from each other because it's impossible to lock things up and everyone is in the wild together.
"I would say it rarely, rarely, rarely happens," Mason said. "It's an honour system, because you can't really expect people to want to go camping and sit with their belongings the whole time, and there's no way to lock up certain belongings. I've never personally met anybody else that's had something stolen."
For its part, Ontario Parks gives a range of camp safety tips on its website. When it comes to preventing theft, it says: "While campgrounds are safe places with park wardens on patrol, it is a good idea to keep your valuables locked in your car and out of sight."
Mason reported the theft to the park warden, who said he had never heard of an entire campsite being taken before.
Mason loves camping and does solo trips once or twice a year. She also goes on two or three other trips with her kids.
But it'll take time and money to restock her camping gear. In addition to her new 10-person sleeping tent, other Items stolen include a queen-sized pop-up bed, a heater and a new chair. Her bedding and a homemade blanket weren't taken.
These items were stolen from the kitchen and dining tent: Mason's barbecue, Coleman grill, all of her cooking supplies, pots, oils, spices, cutlery, plates and camping lanterns.
They also took her shampoo and dish soap but left her backpack and her Starbucks coffee.
"I was shocked at how thoroughly they cleared everything out. I can't think of anything that they left from my camping kit."
While Mason has her old equipment to use as backup, she said she'll have to start amassing new gear as the season continues. The theft hasn't deterred her from camping, however.
"Honestly, I was more upset about my camping trip being cut short than somebody taking my stuff," she said. "My concern is, if someone got dropped off for a week of camping and someone takes all their food, their shelter, what would happen to them? Not everyone has the luxury of camping with a car."