Summer camp usually kicks off with a sea of eager, smiling faces, but at Camp Erin Toronto the young faces are largely sombre. And the opening introductions? Painfully serious.
"My name is Peter and I lost my mom from cancer."
He's joined by Janhoi, whose father was shot. And Gavin, whose brother choked to death. They're among the 103 kids and teens who recently attended the bereavement camp in Muskoka, Ont.
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The camp finds grieving children through various community agencies, most notably the Dr. Jay Children's Grief Program, and offers them three days of swimming, canoeing, arts and grief workshops.
The first Camp Erin was established in 2002 in Everett, Washington, by retired professional baseball player Jamie Moyer and his wife Karen. They named the camp after a girl they met through the Make-A-Wish Foundation who worried how her sisters would cope after she died of cancer.
There are now 46 locations in the U.S. and two in Canada. Camp Erin Toronto in Muskoka is supported by The Blue Jays Care Foundation.
'They're in a beautiful setting, surrounded by forest and lake and birds — and a group of kids who get it.'- Heather O'Brien, camp grief counsellor
For some kids, the place is appealing. For others, talking about death with strangers can be a hard sell.
"I like that I'm not the only one," said Camille Humphrey, whose father Dan died last year of metastatic melanoma. "Everyone has had someone close to them die recently. And I like that, but I'm just not sure how I feel about the camp."
It's exactly that common experience that ultimately wins over Humphrey, as well as other campers.
"They're in a beautiful setting, surrounded by forest and lake and birds — and a group of kids who get it," said Heather O'Brien, a children's grief counsellor and the camp's director. "They all get it."
CBC's The National visited Camp Erin Toronto and spoke with campers and parents about their personal experiences dealing with the loss of loved ones — watch the story.