YWCA summer camp pivots to private cabin rentals

Camp YoWoChAs has been operating on the shores of Lake Wabamun, about 70 kilometres west of Edmonton, since 1916.

Camp on Lake Wabamun seeks new revenue streams after being shuttered by pandemic this summer

The interior of the yurt now available for rent at Camp YoWoChAs. (YWCA)

A YWCA camp on the shores of Lake Wabamun is pivoting from a summer kids' camp to a cabin rental business, after the pandemic shuttered most of its regular activities this year. 

Camp YoWoChAs has been operating on the shores of the lake, about 70 kilometres west of Edmonton, since 1916. For the first time, it will rent out its cabins to visitors, YWCA Edmonton CEO Katherine O'Neill told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We love connecting folks with nature and during the pandemic, that's more important than ever," O'Neill said.

Camp YoWoChAs is starting small in the cabin rental business.

It partnered with Edmonton designer Justine Ma, with support from sponsors including Ikea, Home Depot and Divine Flooring, to renovate one cabin and one yurt. The process involved replacing bunk beds with new furniture and repainting in bright, cheery colours. 

The interior of The Fox Den cabin after the bunks were removed and it was repainted and furnished. (YWCA)

There was a lot to do, especially in the cabin, said Christine McCourt-Reid, YWCA Edmonton communications manager.

"The cabins were set up for summer campers, to basically bunk as many as we could get in there," McCourt-Reid said. "Our Fox Den cabin was very 1980s cabin chic." 

The yurt and cabin can now each sleep a family of six. The Fox Den, complete with heat and electricity, will rent for $150 per night and the yurt $100 per night, as it doesn't yet have heating, though there are plans for a wood-burning stove.

As neither contain a kitchen, campers will have to be prepared to cook outdoors.

O'Neill told Edmonton AM that she thinks people will be interested in renting, even as the temperatures drop.

"People are really going to have to embrace the winter this year to isolate with their cohort," O'Neill said.

The exterior of the cabin retains its rustic look. (YWCA)

Importantly, the cabins will bring in new revenue for the camp, allowing it to keep some staff employed.

And, O'Neill added, shutting operations down entirely simply wasn't an option.

"We've been doing this since World War I, out there," said O'Neill. "It just shows the resiliency of not only Camp YoWoChAs, but also YWCA Canada.

"We've been there through world wars, the Spanish influenza and really big crises. And instead of closing, we've found innovative ways to keep them open and to keep people connected."


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