Saskatchewan

Sask. sleepaway camps closed for summer 2020 due to COVID-19

All year long, children in Saskatchewan have been looking forward to going back to sleepaway camp. But with summer just around the corner, many camp directors have chosen to cancel their season due to COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of clarity about the timeline to reopen.

Citing lack of clarity from province, camp directors make 'agonizing' decision

The grounds of Camp Kadesh with no campers around. (Submitted by Tim Good)

All year long, children in Saskatchewan have been looking forward to going back to sleepaway camp. But with summer just around the corner, many camp directors have chosen to cancel their season due to COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of clarity about the timeline to reopen. 

Earlier this week, Tim Good, executive director of Camp Kadesh, informed campers' families they would not be returning this summer.

"This is the email you were hoping you wouldn't see this year," he wrote.

"It is with great sadness we now announce the cancellation of all our existing summer programming at Camp Kadesh. The Saskatchewan government has announced that Phase 4 [of reopening] will only include "day" camps. This effectively ends all attempts to propose modification to our normal procedures. We have run out of time and options for summer 2020."

Ten year old Cody Friesen, who was supposed to be returning to Camp Kadesh for a third time this summer, said he never stopped looking forward to it. 

"Since camp ended last year, I was really excited," he said. "I'll miss seeing my friends."

Ten year old Cody Friesen stands with his mom Jennifer Friesen at their home in Langham, Sask. on June 9, 2020. Cody had been looking forward to going back to Camp Kadesh for a third time this summer. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Cody's mother Jennifer Friesen, who grew up attending Camp Kadesh and has volunteered there for the past two years, broke the news to her son on Monday. 

"When we got the email ... I almost didn't want to show him, because it seems like it's been a season of disappointments," she said. "And just to have another thing cancelled on him was heartbreaking."

Good says he is heartbroken too, and wants campers to know that they are all going through this together. 

"We understand you're sad," he said in an interview. "We're sad too. Camp is a big part of all our lives. … We know that you look forward in every moment of your winter towards summer camp. And, I guess, I'm sorry there's nothing else we could do. Just know we tried everything to make summer happen."

Camp directors frustrated by provincial delays 

While the province has been releasing more information about their plans for reopening, camp directors say they have been frustrated by delays and late-breaking decisions that have impacted their ability to plan. 

"As soon as the global pandemic was declared, we were thinking 'okay, what does this mean for camp?'" said Good.

"Any time we've tried to seek information [from the province], the information is never the same ... If the government comes out in the next few weeks and says 'okay, camps can run,' it would really show a misunderstanding of what it takes to run a camp."

Roland Thiessen, executive director of Redberry Bible Camp, made the "hard, agonizing, disappointing," decision to cancel camp at the end of April. He says the government's reluctance to give a firm answer about what camps will be allowed this summer has left camp staff and families in the dark. 

"We would really prefer if the government had either said 'no, you're not going to be able to open' or 'yes, you can,'" he said.

Summer jobs lost

Thiessen said one of the main motivations for cancelling Redberry in April was so staff would be free to search for other employment. 

"We didn't want to be in limbo for too long," he said. "The summer staff we hired would either need to find other jobs or work with us, and it didn't look very promising that they'd be able to work with us."

Campers stand on the dock at Camp Kadesh during the summer. This year, the cabins and the shore will be empty as campers stay home. (Submitted by Tim Good)

Ashley Power, who would have spent her fifth summer on staff at Camp Kadesh this year, said many of her friends and coworkers have lost jobs they were counting on for summer housing, tuition money and something to do throughout the summer months. 

"For lots of people now, the issue is 'how am I going to make money now that camp isn't happening anymore?' Lots of us are looking for jobs, trying to find work when there's not many jobs available for anyone," she said. 

Virtual activities

While ropes courses, basketball courts and packed dining halls are off-limits for now, some camps are still planning to bring parts of their regular summer offerings to campers over the next few months. 

Thiessen said Redberry Bible Camp is planning a program called "Camp Fun at Home" to keep campers connected throughout the summer. 

"It's an online program that we're running, and we're inviting everyone — not just campers who have attended Redberry before, but anyone who's interested in doing camp activities with us," he said. "We'll be having some Bible teaching, some camp songs pre-recorded and some Bible verses that are done with actions that the campers can learn with their families."

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