Can my kids go to overnight camp? Depends where it is
TORONTO -- While counsellors are usually busy getting camps ready for the summer season at this time of the year, organizers are waiting for the various provincial governments to make their final decrees whether the popular summer programs can go ahead amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Canadian Camping Association (CCA), Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia are among the provinces that have cancelled overnight summer camps for kids this year, but the prospects for day camps in some parts of the country are still up in the air.
"What we're hearing is that there is still a likelihood that, depending where you're at in Canada, that day camps will be moving forward," Stephane Richard, president of the Canadian Camping Association, said in an interview with CTV's Your Morning.
Ontario announced Tuesday that day camps will be permitted to open for July and August, but overnight camps will not be allowed to operate. The camps will be required to follow strict health and safety guidelines in addition to oversight from local public health departments and the Ministry of Labour.
Richard said Wednesday that other provinces are still considering moving ahead with day camps following public health guidelines, but the cost to run these camps will be a deciding factor.
"Since COVID has started a lot of the discussions in the camp world has been, 'Can we operate these programs safely to parents and children and teens?' And then the second question is, 'If we can do this, abiding by social distancing measures and all of the protocols put in place due to COVID, does it make financial sense?'" Richard said.
Richard said 85 per cent of the Canadian Camping Association's members are non-profits and those organizations will only be able to go ahead this summer if they receive enough donations and registration fees.
"Some day camps have pulled back due to the fact that they feel that they cannot operate better and cannot do it in a financially secure manner," Richard said, adding that the pandemic has brought some camps to a "financial breaking point."
In Quebec -- the province hardest-hit by the novel coronavirus -- day camps will open as of June 22 across the province, but overnight summer camps won't be allowed reopen until next year.
In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, allowing overnight camps is included in advanced phases of provincial reopening plans, but when those phases will start is still unclear. With no clear date, many camps in Saskatchewan have decided to cancel their programs for the summer but will be offering activities online starting in late June and July.
In Alberta, the CCA says overnight camps have been put on hold but day camps with occupancy limits were approved to reopen with Stage 1 of the province’s relaunch strategy, which began May 14. In Calgary and Brooks, however, the reopening of day camps has been pushed back until June 1. Overnight camps may be reconsidered for July and August, according to the CCA.
Day camps that are going ahead have had to change how they normally operate including incorporating physical distancing in programs, prioritizing outdoor and individual activities, and enhancing disinfection protocols.
The Canadian Camping Association said B.C. has also cancelled overnight camps, however the province has not made an official announcement. B.C. is entering Phase 2 of its restart plan in the coming days, and sector-specific guidelines for child care and recreation, including camps, are expected this week. In the meantime, some day camps have put registration on hold including those organized by the cities of Surrey and Vancouver, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, Science World and several sports leagues.
With camps having to change normal protocols and limit the number of campers they're allowed to take, Richard said the future of summer camps in Canada is uncertain. He said camps do qualify for federal programs aimed at small businesses, but says that’s not enough.
"Camp is in a unique model that generates revenue in essentially two months of operation and uses that revenue for the full year," Richard said. "So right now, I think the survival of camp will certainly be pushed and what we're hoping is that we see more relief programs that can be applied to camp and the outdoor recreation industry."
Day camps are going ahead in some areas of Atlantic Canada despite more gradual reopening plans than in other provinces.
In New Brunswick, day camps are allowed to open as of May 19 if organizations can adhere to public health measures set out by the province.
Day camps in Prince Edward Island will go ahead June 1 as part of Phase 3 if the province’s reopening plan moves ahead as scheduled with.
While Nova Scotia is still working to develop a phased plan to lift restrictions, the province has already cancelled overnight camps. It is not known if day camps will be included in its reopening plan.
Newfoundland and Labrador loosened some public health measures May 11, but only a few businesses have been cleared to reopen in addition to some low-risk outdoor activities. Provincial officials have not yet commented on summer camps, however some programs have already cancelled their season.
Camps at Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador for persons with disabilities were cancelled April 28 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group is working with Easter Seals Ontario, which is bringing its summer camp online and offered spots to Newfoundland and Labrador campers.
In the territories, overnight summer camps will have to wait for Phase 2 of Yukon's reopening and will have to undergo a public health assessment before they can operate. There has been no date attached to this phase leaving camps in limbo.
Yellowknife has begun planning for the reopening of day camps following the Northwest Territories' relaxing of some public health measures on May 15 however, no timeline has been provided.
Nunavut has not announced any plans to reopen its economy and it is unlikely that camps will go ahead there.
Richard told CTVNews.ca via email that he"would not be surprised" if more camps across Canada announce cancellations of their programs in coming days and weeks.
For parents who have already registered for camp and it gets cancelled, Richard told CTV's Your Morning most programs are providing full refunds. Others are offering to roll over registration fees to 2021 and some are asking parents to consider donating the fees to the camp.
"Every camp has a little bit of a different procedure [regarding] refund policies but every single camp that I've talked to are being completely flexible with parents and wanting to give parents what they are owed… The only thing I'm asking of parents in the situation is to be flexible with the camp, because this is uncharted territory for a lot of them," Richard said.
An earlier version of this story said B.C. had cancelled overnight camps. B.C. has yet to make an official announcement regarding overnight camps but it is the Canadian Camping Association's understanding that the cancellation is coming.