COVID-19 derails summer camp plans for thousands

With dozens of city-run day camps cancelled on Monday, parents are left making alternative arrangements for their kids, or worrying about the safety of the activities if they do go ahead with modifications.

More than 4,000 kids already signed up for now-cancelled day camps

Catherine Delaney's summer plans are up in the air after City Day camps were put on hold. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A note in bold, red type on the website for a three-week-long stagecraft camp this summer at Centrepointe Theatre says 'The Show Will go on!"

But for parents with children who were planning to attend summer camps, the question is "How?"

The City of Ottawa on Monday cancelled registration for its summer camps originally scheduled to run from June 29 to Aug. 28, as it scrambles to rethink the program to conform with public health measures.

Details on what a "re-formatted" camp experience for the 4,159 campers already enrolled will come next week, said Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services.

Toosje Delaney's daughters Madelaine, 12, and Catherine, 8, were enrolled in the stagecraft camp. Not only is the camp in limbo, Delany worries about how a camp requiring physical closeness and singing could be modified safely.

The Ottawa mother of three also worries if day camps are permitted to be open with restrictions, children will effectively become guinea pigs used to work out safe protocols for a possible return-to-school in the fall.

"I'm not 100 per cent convinced at this point," said a sceptical Delaney, who has been working assiduously to keep her family following public health guidelines.

Toosje Delaney and Fergus Delaney take a break from school work outside their Ottawa home. (Stu Mills/CBC)

If the enrolment fees are refunded, she said the family would either spend the money on new summer entertainment diversions, a summer trip, or put it toward debt.

"It's unfortunate for them because they're not getting that outlet of creativity," she said.

"They really need to socialize, to express themselves and a lot of that has been taken away.

With park play structures and splash-pads possibly off-limits all summer, Delaney had been eyeing the start date of camp as a rare reprieve from round-the-clock parenting.

"We're still in a holding pattern with that," she said.

Special needs kids in limbo

The city and many municipalities are also in a holding pattern, awaiting further direction from the province on whether it will relax closure orders affecting summer camps.

Parents with children with special needs say they are feeling the loss.

The City of Ottawa has derailed summer camp plans for thousands of kids. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Michelle Hutchinson's daughter, Sarah, 6, who has special needs, was signed up for a camp at Dovercourt Recreation.

Hutchinson says her daughter was "good at making noises, but not at hearing noises" and was hoping the program would help with her social skills.

Hutchinson said the cancellation means she will likely have to hire more expensive one-on-one therapy for Sarah, instead. "Unfortunately this has definitely been a big hiccup in our plans for her."

The uncertainty is affecting Amanda Brassard's family, too.

She was relying on a summer camp for her son, Noah, 5, who is on the autism spectrum. 

She said the extra-curricular outings were important to keep him in touch with friends and routine.

But, "Kowabunga", a Town of Casselman day camp for which he is enrolled, is also in limbo.

"It was so beneficial for him -- it's been a really hard go since he's been off school," said Brassard.

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