Sudbury·Audio

Northern summer camps allowed to open, but still don't have Ontario COVID-19 rules

Stayover summer camps will be allowed to open this week under Ontario's COVID plans. Many in northern Ontario have decided to sit out a second summer, while others say it is tough to make plans without specific COVID-19 protocols from the government.

Finances will be 'tight' after 2 years without paying customers, camps say

Camp Aush-Bik-Koong, near the hamlet of Walford west of Sudbury, plans to open this summer, but isn't sure what that will look like without regulations from the Ontario government. (Camp Aush-Bik-Koong)

Stayover summer camps will be allowed to open this week under Step 2 of Ontario's COVID-19 recovery plans.

But many camps in northern Ontario have decided to sit out a second summer, while others say it is tough to make plans without specific pandemic protocols from the government.

"I know I speak for every camp that we miss being able to do what we do best," says Ryan Lidstone, managing director for Camp Aush-Bik-Koong, near the hamlet of Walford, west of Sudbury.

The camp was closed last year, but plans to open this summer, although will not come close to its normal total of 700 campers.

But Lidstone said he has yet to get a list of finalized COVID-19 protocols from the province, even just days before it would be legal for him to unlock the gates and welcome back campers. 

Camp Aush-Bik-Koong normally welcomes 700 campers a summer, but that will be greatly reduced in 2021. (Camp Aush-Bik-Koong)

"Because a lot of the questions I get from parents are, 'What's your masking policy going to be? What's your social distancing policy going to be?' and I said, 'Well, we're still waiting on guidance from the government at this point,'" he said.

"It's a little bit frustrating to not know exactly what's going to be laid out."

Lidstone said the camp was $25,000 in the red after last summer and will operate at a loss this year, but is on steady financially footing thanks to the "generosity of people donating to a place they care about."

The Canadian Adventure Camp in Temgami has decided to stay closed for a second straight summer. (Canadian Adventure Camp )

The Canadian Adventure Camp in Temagami will be closed for a second straight summer because of COVID-19.

Senior director Skip Connett said that's partly because the lack of direction from the province "left us dangling" this spring, but he's glad he "wasn't the premier through all this. Almost anyone in politics is kind of doomed."

"What really did it for me was the fact that camp is a happy place. It's for people come have a good time. And I couldn't see with the suggested protocols we were looking at that we could produce what we want to produce. 

"We'll make it up to them next year."

Connett said he and other staff have been busy with maintenance projects at the camp that they normally don't get to, but admits it's a "weird" place to be without the kids.

"Because we're used to happy laughter and the sounds of people everywhere, and instead of that, was nothing. Just the wind in the trees."

Connett said he's now excited for the 2022 summer and is making sure there's money in the budget to reopen.

The Canadian Adventure Camp says its finances are 'tight' after missing two seasons without paying campers. (Canadian Adventure Camp )

"It's pretty tight," he said.

"I tried to get a paper route, but they don't have those anymore."

Camp Manitou Bay of Islands, a boat-in camp on Georgian Bay not far from Whitefish Falls, will also be quiet for a second straight summer.

Sebastian Diebel, president of the board of directors, said there were just too many unknowns this summer for a camp run largely by volunteers.

Sebastian Diebel, left, with his brother Simon. Both are camp directors at Camp Manitou Bay of Islands. The camp will be closed for a second straight summer because of COVID-19. (Submitted by Sebastian Diebel)

"We just knew there would be too many things beyond our control," said Diebel.

"I think we're probably all feeling pretty sad that we can't open again this year, that we've made the decision not to open this year. But for us, I think it was the right decision."

Some of the regular campers and counsellors plan to get together online the next few months to sing campfire songs and reminisce about happier summers.

Summer camps will be allowed to open for the season but a lot of them in northern Ontario are deciding not to do that... and some of it has to do with the province's re-opening plan. We reached out to a few summer camps in the northeast to hear their thoughts on the issue. 7:49

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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