Regular campers at Camp Vincent are joining thousands of other young people across Ontario who will be missing out on the camp experience this year. Photo courtesy Camp Vincent

Summer camps another COVID casualty

By 
  • May 30, 2020

Discussions on how Camp Vincent would operate as this year of pandemic turned into summer became a moot point once the province of Ontario took the decision out of operators’ hands.

Premier Doug Ford announced May 19 that overnight summer camps would be cancelled due to the risks associated with COVID-19, ending all discussion by camp operators on how they would proceed with this season.

“We had been toying with the idea prior to the government’s announcement as well, so I guess we weren’t really surprised when they confirmed this is the way it was going to go,” said Collin Girard, chair of the board of directors at Camp Vincent, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-run camp located in Bothwell in southwestern Ontario.

The topic was front of mind for camp operators since mid-March when much of the nation went into lockdown to keep the coronavirus in check. It was always on the table, but when it was announced by Ford, it didn’t make things any easier.

“Recognizing that this isn’t going to be a possibility this summer was a bit depressing. It wasn’t a decision we wanted to be making, but we recognize there’s a need for safety,” said Girard, who has been with the camp since 2005.

Still, it’s not an unexpected move. The Ontario Camps Association, the umbrella organization that oversees more than 450 day and overnight camps in Ontario, said it understands why the decision was made.

“The Government of Ontario made this decision in the best interests of Ontario’s children and their families,” the association said in a statement posted to its website.

More than 400,000 children take part in summer camps, day and overnight, which employ 35,000 people.

The association has worked closely with the province to share concerns and offer its support. It will continue to do so for the day camps, which remain in limbo as no announcement has been made as to whether they will operate this summer.

“Hosting a physical summer day camp is definitely a moving target,” said Kelly MacKenzie, executive director of Silent Voice which operates camps for hearing-impaired children, in an email to The Catholic Register. “We are planning for a digital engagement of campers with deaf counsellors and mentors. What our camp will look like … is undecided.”

The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in Hamilton, Ont., operates two separate camps, Camp Marydale and Camp Brebeuf. Upon hearing the news these camps won’t be able to operate, administrators asked that parents “remain patient with us as we work through the cancellation process.” The CYO will also need time to review how government restrictions will affect day camps and “how we can put them into place to operate our programs safely,” said a statement on the CYO’s website.

While Girard can’t argue with the overnight camp closures, he can’t help but feel for the kids who won’t have a chance — perhaps their only chance — at this kind of experience.

“It’s probably the right choice but it’s just unfortunate that the population we serve is not going to have access to that programming,” he said.

Many of its campers, as well as the society’s Camp Marygrove and Camp Ozanam, are from underprivileged families that can’t readily access camping.

Trying to go online, like churches have done in live-streaming Masses, is not an option. There’s just no way to recreate the camp experience online, he said. The social aspect is the camp’s greatest calling card.

“I don’t think you could do anything that would come close to mimicking that experience. The kids interacting with each other, with the staff, with nature, that’s really what drives the program home,” said Girard.

For those that may be too old to attend next year, it’s been suggested by some parents that the program be expanded on a one-time-only basis in 2021 for them, and it’s definitely a possibility, he said.

“Those sort of things are not out of the question, those are conversations we’re having,” said Girard.

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