Saskatchewan

Camps in Sask. cancelling, adapting due to COVID-19

Many summer camps across the province have decided to cancel their onsite programs this year due to COVID-19. 

19 registered summer camps have already cancelled onsite camp programs for 2020

Redberry Bible Camp, 70 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon at Redberry Lake, normally welcomes 900 campers every year. This year, onsite camps are cancelled and it will instead be offering free, at-home programming. (Facebook/Redberry Bible Camp)

Many summer camps across the province have decided to cancel their onsite programs this year due to COVID-19. 

Summer camps and other recreational activities are part of phase four of Saskatchewan's reopening plan. That phase doesn't have a date and will go ahead if the phases before it are successful. 

Keldy Regier, director of operations at Redberry Bible Camp, said there are other uncertainties as well. She said even if summer camps are allowed to open, overnight stays and shared meals likely won't be permitted. That was one of the reasons that led to Redberry cancelling its regular camps. 

"We can't run the way we normally operate summer camp programs, between the gathering limits and the social distancing, in particular," she said. "It makes it really hard to take care of children if you've got to stay two meters apart." 

Regier said it was "heartbreaking," knowing that the 900 kids who usually attend their camp every year would be let down. 

To help keep its regular campers busy over the summer, the camp has developed a program called "Camp Fun @ Home."

Redberry Bible Camp has 24 horses onsite. (Facebook/Redberry Bible Camp)

It has kicked off with online posts and an at-home scavenger hunt to get kids interested. On June 29 the camp will start releasing weekly programming. 

"The goal is for it to be easy and fun for kids to do and easy for parents," said Regier. "Parents are juggling being teachers and workers and mom and dad and we don't want them to have to juggle being a camp counselor on top of that.

"We want this to be things that kids can do on their own."

The curriculum will include an hour or two of planned activities per day, tailored to participants between the ages of six and 14. Those activities will include crafts, science experiments, outdoor adventures, dance tutorials and journalling. 

"Camp is such a special place for so many people and we know that as much as us as staff are heartbroken about not having summer, these kids are just as heartbroken too, so we wanted them to have some camp-flavoured fun," she said.

"We chose to do it at home as opposed to more online content just to keep things a little more simple." 

All of it will be completely free on their website, and most of it will not require a computer. Regier said she spoke with teachers who found access to devices for kids to be one of the biggest barriers to their at-home education. She said she hopes it will also help get children outside and off of technology for at least part of their day.

Due to the shift in programming, Redberry had to cancel all of its contracts for summer staff, although some are helping out as volunteers. 

Redberry Bible Camp's "Camp fun @ home" program will be geared towards kids ages six to 14. (Redberry Bible Camp)

Holly Epp, executive director at the Saskatchewan Camps Association (SCA), said that camps in the province typically hire 1,500 students every summer. Many camps haven't hired any yet this year. 

Out of 45 camps that are registered with the SCA, so far 19 have officially cancelled 2020 programming. 

The remaining camps are playing the waiting game, with statements on most of their websites saying they are working in collaboration with the SCA and the provincial government. 

"Camps don't want to be the place where this is going to be, where there's going to be an outbreak," said Epp. "They don't want to have their campers or their staff coming in sick and obviously they don't want them going out sick."

One Hope Canada runs nine bible camps in the province. Three have cancelled their seasons. 

All of its camps have posted the same statement, which says the organization stresses the importance of good hygiene and sanitation to campers since they are in close quarters.

"As an extra precaution, our camps are installing additional hygiene stations and will undergo aggressive daily cleaning and disinfecting practices to minimize the spread of disease," One Hope Canada said in a written statement. "We are updating these screening, cleaning and disinfection policies to mirror current best practices recommended by public health authorities."

Torch Trail Bible Camp in Choiceland, one of nine Sask. camps run by One Hope Canada, recently cancelled its 2020 onsite camps. The camp is working to launch an at-home program. (Facebook/Torch Trail Bible Camp)

The camps have updated their refund policies to now return any money paid by a camper who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to others who have. If a week of camp has to be cancelled because of a health order, a full refund will also be issued.

Many camps outside of the organization are now also offering full refunds to campers who would rather stay home, whether the camp they have signed up for is cancelled or not. 

"They want to know that they can open and offer a safe program," said Epp. "But it's a tough business decision as well because some of them have lost revenue already."

Some camps had to cancel their annual fundraising events and other sources of income. 

Regier said that without Redberry's summer camp programs and facility rentals, the camp is losing about 45 per cent of its annual revenue.

The camp also had to cancel all facility rentals in mid March. Prior to that it had school groups booked to visit almost every day in June.

In order to continue operating, the camp is asking for donations.

The fate of University camps

The University of Regina announced Tuesday that it would be offering all of its 2020 camps remotely. 

Campers, ages three to 14, will meet daily through Zoom video conferences. 

The eight-week camps include glee, guitar, songwriting, podcasting and radio 101. 

The University is allowing kids to try out one hour sessions in June for $10 to see if it's a good fit for them. The "camp samplers" range from abstract art, to choreography to sing-a-longs. 

The University of Saskatchewan has not yet announced whether its camps will run. 

A spokesperson told CBC in a written statement that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes in its operations.

"Every year, the university typically offers a wide range of educational camps for kids of all ages," said chief communications officer Gord Hunchak. 

"However, due to the current global health crisis, summer camps scheduled for July and August 2020 are currently awaiting direction to proceed based on the province's re-opening plans and expected campus restrictions.

"When a decision on summer camps is made, it will be communicated with the public well in advance allowing registered families to know what to expect and to make plans accordingly."

SCA camps that have cancelled onsite programming:

  • Arlington Beach Camp & Conference Centre.
  • Beaver Creek Camp.
  • Blackstrap Youth Camp (Saskatoon Youth Dev. Complex).
  • Camp Christopher.
  • Camp Circle O' Friends.
  • Camp Easter Seal.
  • Camp Elim.
  • Camp Oshkidee.
  • Camp Shagabec.
  • Camp Tapawingo.
  • Camp Whitesand.
  • Dallas Valley Ranch Camp.
  • Deeper Life @ Strasbourg Bible Camp.
  • Lumsden Beach Camp.
  • Manitou Lake Bible Camp.
  • Redberry Bible Camp.
  • St. Michael's Camp.
  • Torch Trail Bible Camp. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of the story stated that Echo Lake Bible Camp was cancelled for the season when in fact it is not.
    May 21, 2020 4:59 PM CT

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

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