Ontario overnight camps prepare in hopes of reopening this summer

·2 min read
Children paddling at Camp Otterdale in this file photo. Overnight camps in Ontario are already preparing to welcome back campers after last summer's shutdown because of the pandemic, even though the province has yet to give them the green light. (Submitted by Sherry Crummy - image credit)
Children paddling at Camp Otterdale in this file photo. Overnight camps in Ontario are already preparing to welcome back campers after last summer's shutdown because of the pandemic, even though the province has yet to give them the green light. (Submitted by Sherry Crummy - image credit)

Overnight camps in Ontario are already preparing to hopefully welcome back campers after last summer's shutdown because of the pandemic, even though the province has yet to give them the green light.

"We've been hard at it planning because the runway to camp is long," said Joanne Kates, owner and director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.

"A summer camp doesn't spring full grown from the forehead of Zeus the day before the kids arrive."

While the province has given day camps the go-ahead to reopen, overnight camps are still waiting to hear similar good news.

The Ontario Camps Association has been working with the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto to devise a plan on how to safely reopen overnight camps.

Jack Goodman, chair of the association's COVID-19 task force, said the office of Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief officer of health, has also been involved in developing a safe reopening plan.

Families say children 'desperately need camp'

On Monday, more than 85 health-care professionals in Quebec signed a letter addressed to Premier Francois Legualt arguing socialization and physical activity are essential to children's mental and physical well-being, and that the government should consider the benefits of sleep-away camps.

It's a sentiment Kates agrees with, saying children have suffered over the year by being isolated from their friends and spending countless hours on screens.

"I'm getting a dozen at least calls from our families every day saying my children desperately need camp, please open," she said.

Camp Arowhon is a sleepaway camp in Ontario's Algonquin Park. Owner and director Joanne Kates says the camp has created a COVID-19 strategy that includes testing campers before they arrive and again when they are at camp.
Camp Arowhon is a sleepaway camp in Ontario's Algonquin Park. Owner and director Joanne Kates says the camp has created a COVID-19 strategy that includes testing campers before they arrive and again when they are at camp. (Submitted/Joanne Kates)

Cohorting, COVID-19 testing possible

Jeff Brown, owner and director of Camp Otterdale near Smiths Falls, said his camp is already in discussions about what the summer may look like, including a socially distanced arrival day and the possibility of cohorting.

"My personal hope is that our camp, that all our camps are considered to be a cohort of one camp, one cohort," he said, but added that might be hard for camps that welcome a larger number of children.

Other plans for a safe opening could include testing of both children and counsellors before they arrive and after they've been at camp for a couple of days.

CBC News has reached out to Ontario's Ministry for Health and Long-Term Care for comment on whether they are thinking about reopening camps and when a decision may be made, but hasn't received a response.