Ontario camps pivot to offering rentals, family programs to salvage season

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Some overnight summer camps in Ontario have ditched their typical operations and are offering vacation rentals instead as they attempt to salvage the season.

The province allowed overnight camps to open under strict protocols last week as Ontario moved into the second phase of its reopening plan, but some camp owners say they simply weren’t given enough time to prepare for their regular summer programing.

Sparrow Lake Camp in Severn Bridge, Ont., is among those that decided to pivot to a different model.

It is offering what it calls a “Holiday Camp,” where families can rent cabins for a few days and enjoy activities such as sailing and rock climbing.

“We were just really realizing that the things that we would need to do to keep campers safe were a bit more than then we could really do,” said executive director Brendan Turner.

During a typical summer, campers attending Sparrow Lake stay for four to five days at a time, resulting in high turnover of participants.

“With that much turnover in our camp, we just weren’t feeling that we could really ensure that no one was bringing COVID into the camp and spreading it around the camp,” said Turner.

Camp Mini-Yo-We in Port Sydney, Ont., also decided to transition to family programming this summer, allowing “kids to take their parents to camp” for week-long stays.

“The government was way too late on getting the regulations finalized for organizations like us to run, so we made the decision in May that we needed to pick a path forward that allowed us to employ our students in the summertime,” said executive director Rich Birch.

Households at the camp can remain within their COVID-19 bubbles while staying physicially distanced from other groups, the camp said.

Meanwhile, other camps like Canadian Adventure Camp in Temagami, Ont., decided to forego the entire season.

“(The protocols) are very, very hard to do in a children’s summer camp,” said founder Skip Connett, adding that he was willing to bear the financial strain of remaining closed.

Connett said instead of extending public health measures kids have been following for over a year into camp grounds, his operation decided to postpone its programing to next summer “when you can really do a free job and do it properly.”

The Ontario Camps Association said “there was great uncertainty” on COVID-19 guidance for overnight camps. The province provided the final set of guidelines on June 30, the day overnight camps were allowed to start operating.

“Some camps felt that they just could not prepare adequately for a regular season,” said Jack Goodman, the association’s COVID-19 task force chairman.

The Ministry of Health said it ensured throughout the spring that the camps association and public health units were able to provide feedback on draft guidance for camps while it was being updated and finalized.

Under the final protocols laid out by the province, campers are required to stay within cohorts, self-isolate 14 days prior to arrival to camp and be screened and tested for the virus while at camp, among other things.

Goodman noted that many camps in Ontario have decided to offer their regular summer programing, with the protocols in place. Those camps, however, will have to incur additional costs related to enforcing the measures, such as extra tents, disinfection, added nurses or medical support, as well as increased ventilation.

“The key is that we will not relax,” said Goodman, who also owns Camp New Moon in Baysville, Ont., and decided to run regular programing.

“Everyone that’s part of the Ontario Camps Association wants to operate carefully and responsibly and follow all the guidance and then some.”

 

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press