Summer camp closures crushing but necessary, industry insiders say

Summer camp closures crushing but necessary, industry insiders say

Summer camp closures crushing but necessary, industry insiders say

The Ontario government’s decision to cancel overnight summer camps due to the ongoing risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic is both medically necessary and potentially disastrous, according to people involved with the industry.

Families and camp operators all acknowledge the wisdom of the move, announced by Premier Doug Ford earlier this week at the same time that he said schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

But parents said the decision still represents a major disappointment for kids barred from their usual physical and leisure activities since widespread shutdowns took effect in mid-March. And camp operators, while praising the government’s focus on public health, say the looming financial losses they face could fundamentally transform the industry.

“This has huge potential of devastating a significant portion of our industry,” said Howie Grossinger, who co-owns an overnight camp near Bancroft, Ont., and a day camp in Markham, Ont. “…The thought of not having revenue is very difficult. We’re a very unique, seasonal industry.”

Grossinger said most camps typically receive a portion of their annual revenue in the fall when parents pay deposits that are used to cover costs such as property maintenance. The bulk of the revenue then flows in the spring when families pay off their balances.

Grossinger said that while the initial deposits have largely been spent, camps will soon find themselves without any cash flow at all as they refund balances paid down while the fate of the camping season was still up in the air.

He described the current circumstances as “unprecedented,” saying past upheavals such as world wars and even previous public health crises hadn’t shut down the industry to the same degree as COVID-19.

“During those difficult times, parents could look to camp as a respite for the difficulties they were going through,” he said. “…I know there was a polio scare back in the mid-40s in Toronto, and some families felt going to camp and the fresh air were important.”

But Grossinger said governments had little choice but to cancel the overnight camping season in light of the ongoing global pandemic. Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta have all made the same move, with Quebec officials saying such a cancellation seems likely in that province as well.

Day camps are allowed to proceed in most provinces, including Ontario. Quebec announced on Thursday that the government would not rule out the idea of financial help for facilities that choose to open and must hire more staff in order to preserve public health measures.

Despite the green light from Ontario, Grossinger said he and his wife opted not to welcome day campers this year.

He said letting camp operate would also ensure hundreds of children were commuting back and forth throughout Toronto and the surrounding area, noting the logistics of offering traditional activities while enforcing physical distancing measures among kids would also pose a “monumental” challenge.

Those obstacles are helping one Toronto-area parent make peace with the loss of the camp season.

Julia Waiser, who lives in the York Region suburb of Thornhill, said her daughters were devastated to learn they would not be attending overnight camp as anticipated, but said the public health compromises that would have been necessary to protect staff and campers would have likely led to a disappointing experience.

Waiser said the activities at the centre of camp life, such as sleeping and eating alongside friends and taking part in group games and sports, would have been all but impossible to maintain while practising physical distancing.

“The moment that you start to change what camp is and change the atmosphere to the point where camp doesn’t feel like camp anymore, the experience wouldn’t be the same,” she said. “To have it be anything less than that wouldn’t be worth it for the girls.”

The Ontario Camps Association, representing 450 day and overnight facilities across the province, agreed the government made the right call.

“While this decision is very difficult for everyone who loves Ontario’s camps — especially children and their families, the OCA understands and supports this decision,” the association said in a statement. ”The Government of Ontario made this decision in the best interests of Ontario’s children and their families.”

The association said it would continue to work with government and health officials to ensure day camps that choose to open this summer have the best possible advice.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File Photo
Rimbey RCMP give tips to creating an emergency kit

Local RCMP also responded to 42 calls for service over the last week

park
Paskapoo Park staff and volunteers await the word when they can again welcome visitors to explore the site

In the meantime, summer help has been hired to maintain grounds and buildings

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

Advocate file photo
Harness racing returning to Lacombe track

Track on 2 Racing and Event Centre has high hopes for 2021

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Rimbey RCMP respond to 32 calls for service

These files include two thefts of trucks, three fraud-related investigations and two other types of theft complaints

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same – do it and you’ll be ordered to pay

A wild rabbit grazes in Nanaimo, B.C. in this Feb.2, 2018 photo. Rabbit owners in Alberta are being warned about a deadly virus that was identified in a southern Alberta household last month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner
‘Like a flash fire:’ Rabbit owners warned about outbreak of deadly disease in Alberta

The disease is confined to rabbits and cannot spread to humans

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is prepared at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada

The vaccine was previously authorized for anyone at least 16 years of age or older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canadians could begin travelling outside the country again by summer

Ranging from 11 to 20 in age and representing seven provinces and one territory, the plaintiffs are appealing a Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit last fall. (David Suzuki Foundation)
15 youths not backing down in their fight to sue Ottawa over climate change inaction

The group has filed an appeal after their lawsuit was struck down by a Federal Court judge last fall

A 2021 census questionnaire. (Black Press Media file photo)
2021 census responses due May 11

By law, every household must complete a census questionnaire

Most Read