Letters from camp: How it felt to return after 2020’s cancelled summer

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-08-09 06:00

Dear CBC Kids News — from Nate Carmichael, a camper

This time last year, 11-year-old Nate Carmichael wasn’t at camp.

Like many overnight summer camps across the country, his was cancelled due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was pretty disappointed because I really like going to camp and I missed out and I didn't get to see my friends,” he told CBC Kids News.

Flash forward one year later, and Nate was back at Camp Ponacka, an all-boys camp located about three hours north of Toronto, for four weeks.

How did it feel to be back?

CBC Kids News asked Nate to write us some letters from camp. Keep scrolling to read about the experience in his own words!

In his letters to CBC Kids News, Nate described feeling safe and having fun! (Image submitted by Camp Ponacka)

Letter #1 — Returning to camp and making friends

 It has been two years since I was at camp. When I returned this year, I made lots of friends. One of my friends was very silly and very excited to play games and have lots of fun. I had not been allowed to see anyone for nearly three months. It was very exciting to finally get a chance to make new friends and see people again. At first I felt kinda weird being around so many people, but then I got used to it. It was good to be around different people again.

Despite some awkward moments after months of isolation, Nate said he made lots of friends.

Overall, he said his 2021 camp experience was “interesting, fun and exciting.”

Nate uses a handsaw on a woodworking project. Next year he said he wants to try doing more archery. (Image submitted by Camp Ponacka)

Nate said he had a good time trying out activities like canoeing, horseback riding, woodworking and chilly morning dips in the water with pals.

On special days, he got to eat sugary cereals and have dance parties.

Letter #2 — Camp and COVID-19

 COVID-19 has made camp different this year. At the start of camp, we had to wear masks inside a building at all times if there was a different group or someone not in the same cabin or tent (except for when we ate, of course.) But if you were in the same group, then you didn't have to wear a mask or social distance. For the first few days, we would do activities together with our cabin group, but after a little bit, we got to do them on our own. We would wash our hands before any meals, but that's normal. Although camp was different this year, it was still lots of fun

Nate said he was more worried about making new friends than catching a virus.

Why? There were so many safety precautions in place, Nate said he felt confident he could have a safe summer.

“I knew it was practically impossible [to get COVID-19] because everyone was tested,” said Nate said, adding that if somebody got sick, then the whole cabin would have to go home.

“So I wasn’t really worried.”

Nate had to wear masks at camp during some activities, like horseback riding. He said he also made sure to wash his hands, distance and listen to camp leaders. (Image submitted by Camp Ponacka)

Staff at Camp Ponacka confirmed that campers were tested twice during their stay: once on arrival day and again a few days before the kids went home.

They said that campers and staff are following a long list of precautions this summer.

And, so far, there haven’t been any COVID-19 cases at the camp.

Letter #3 — What was the No. 1 thing you learned?

The No. 1 lesson I learned was probably being able to take care of myself and have fun without my parents, and not feel sad the whole time. At camp, I had to make my own bed, organize my clothes and clean my space without their help. I had fun doing lots of stuff with my friends, like going swimming, horseback riding and doing crafts. It's good to be able to do that and learn to be able to do that, because I won't always have my parents with me.

Although he felt homesick at times, Nate said his new friends and camp leaders made sure he felt safe and at home.

He said he learned a lot about independence and responsibility.

Nate’s biggest piece of advice for all campers is to embrace the new.

“Be open to people and to try to make friends with people and try new things,” he said.

One of Nate’s highlights is captured here in his drawing. It’s known as the Candlelight Ceremony, where all campers light a candle and have it float out into the water. It represents campers from all different parts of Canada coming together for a summer and then branching out again, off into the world. (Image submitted by Nate Carmichael)

As for next year, Nate said he’s already looking forward to heading back to camp, hopefully with no more COVID-19 worries.

He said he’s ready to “go out of my comfort zone and try to make friends” again.

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