The founder of a Nova Scotia camp for kids with chronic illness is being remembered for his unshakable passion and determination to create a place where children knew they belonged.
Dave McKeage died Sunday at the age of 49.
He was the driving force behind Brigadoon Village, a camp that opened in the Annapolis Valley in 2011 for kids with chronic illnesses and special needs.
“He’s changed so many lives and so many kids’ lives. That’s a pretty powerful legacy to leave behind,” said Joachim Stroink, a former MLA and friend of McKeage’s who helped him found the camp.
For some kids, the weeks spent at Brigadoon are the first time they don’t feel alone, said the camp’s executive director.
“He’s given us this tremendous gift and legacy of Brigadoon,” said David Graham.
It was McKeage’s own battle with cancer that prompted him to spend many years working to open Brigadoon Village. He was diagnosed at the age of 11, and at 15 began volunteering with The Canadian Cancer Society.
McKeage’s death leaves a big hole in the organization, said Graham.
“But his legacy is the transformation that’s going to occur in these children’s lives, and then conversely what’s going to occur in our region with these children being so profoundly affected by their experience at Brigadoon,” he said.
Camp welcomes hundreds of kids
This year, the camp welcomed 712 kids and Graham expects they’ll have over 800 next year. He said in just seven short years, the non-profit organization has become the largest pediatric illness camp in the country.
Stroink, who met McKeage 20 years ago, said his friend’s passion and determination was infectious.
“He was the most passionate, driven individual who truly believed in his dream and when he spoke, you followed his dream,” he said.
“That’s all he wanted to do was create a space where kids could play and share their stories with each other.”
Stroink remembers the day McKeage moved out of the Trail Shop in Halifax, the building the two shared that acted as Brigadoon Village’s first office. All the staff showed up and talked late into the night even though it was Halloween, he said.
“We all sat around and we laughed and we joked until 1, 2 o’clock in the morning and they all had friends and parties to go to, but they were just mesmerized by Dave and his story, his passion and his laughter.”
Stroink said it’s up to Nova Scotians now to carry on the dream that McKeage created with Brigadoon Village. He’d like to see more camps built on the same model right across the country.
McKeage is survived by his wife and young son.