Although this is the first summer since the COVID-19 pandemic began that people are feeling more comfortable travelling, most Westman residents are staying close to home for the next several weeks.
The high price of fuel, which has been plaguing Canadians since early this spring, is feeding into high inflation, and Manitobans are feeling the pinch. Though prices for gasoline showed some signs of dropping in the province earlier this week, it’s not enough for most people to decide they want to travel out of province just yet.
Joy Blackelk, a mother from Brandon, said normally during the summertime she likes to take her children to powwows in Saskatchewan and on camping trips around Manitoba. Gas prices, however, have her grounded. Despite that, she’s still happy that she and her children get to interact with people and use Brandon’s outdoor facilities — such as spray parks and splash pads — for the first time since COVID. She’s also looking forward to taking her family fishing near the city.
"Cost is a huge factor," Tara Stephenson, another local mom, said. "We love the beach, but with gas prices, the splash park is the next best thing."
Erica Hauck said that things seem to be going round and round in a "vicious circle."
"Everything is sky-high. [My] hours at work [are] getting cut back, so really can’t afford to do anything."
Thankfully, some parents have found free programming that helps them keep their children active and entertained while they’re away from school during July and August.
Ashley Winstone’s kids are attending summer programming at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre.
"It’s all free and my kids love it. Not to mention they help give transportation if needed."
Single mother Brenda Bonchuk said although it’s hard to put her kids in camp, due to them visiting their father in summer, she tries to involve them in as many activities as she can, to give them the chance to enjoy the outdoors and socialize with their friends. She’s taking advantage of the City of Brandon’s Youth Activity Centre (YAC) programs.
The YAC programs run during weekday afternoons throughout July and August at three different locations in the city. Justine Friesen, recreation programmer with the City of Brandon, said that so far, there’s been high demand for the program from local parents and caregivers.
"It’s crazy uptake. I think, because of COVID, people were kind of itching for something to get their kids socialized again. Lots of kids are participating daily."
While cost is a factor, Friesen said that most of the paid camps she knows about are also operating at nearly-full capacity.
Steven Dyce, program manager for the YMCA in Brandon, said their summer camps didn’t really see a drop-off during the pandemic.
"Our day camps were still relatively popular during COVID … things have been pretty steady over the last two years."
Now, Dyce said the Y is experiencing slightly lower uptake than usual, at around 90 per cent. They normally run six camps per week during the summer, but are currently only doing four. He thinks it may be due to the fact that now that pandemic restrictions are gone, people have other options.
"Lots of people were working from home, and work schedules were affected. Maybe people don’t require weeklong daycare."
Dyce doesn’t think cost is a factor, as the YMCA offers financial assistance that people can apply for.
Nicole Cooper, director of recreation services at the Town of Neepawa, said their day camps are mostly full, ranging anywhere from 10 to 14 kids per day — slightly higher than during pandemic years.
"In the first COVID year, it went down substantially. Then last year, it kind of started to pick back up once regulations were starting to lift, but this year it’s only our first week of day camps and we’ve already got almost full registration for most of the days."
With around nine weeks until most schools in western Manitoba resume classes for the fall semester, it remains to be seen whether or not day camps will be running at full capacity. Depending on whether or not fuel prices continue their slight decrease, summer plans remain as changeable as the season’s weather.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun