For Lyndze Harvey, it’s hard to imagine summer without Camp Thunderbird.

It’s where she spent summers as a child on South Vancouver Island, and where she met her partner for the first time. It’s where the university professor now drops off her nine- and seven-year-old children in the summer when she needs to prepare for a busy fall. So it was no easy task for Ms. Harvey to tell her kids that this year, the family’s favourite nine-day overnight camp was cancelled.

“It’s tradition for us,” she said. “The experience the kids would have had at camp, there is no way to make up for that.”

Camp Thunderbird’s director Luke Ferris felt like he had no other choice but to cancel his entire 2020 summer offering in late April, when he still had little indication from provincial health authorities that overnight and day camps would be safe and permitted by summertime. Camps across the country that face the same uncertainties amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including major associations like Scouts Canada, have also shuttered their dorms for the summer.

Others are still holding out hope to salvage their season, as they wait to find out whether they will have the right to start operations on time, at reduced capacity or at all. The uncertainty has so far left camp directors, staff, parents and children in an anxious limbo.

“The decision was devastating,” Mr. Ferris said, “for business and for the kids – telling them there is no camp is definitely the worst part.” Camp Thunderbird offered refunds to all registrations, which usually reach 1,300 per year, and now expects to make no income in 2020.

“But whether to cancel camps or not is a decision every one of my colleagues across the country is considering right now, and they are probably all in panic mode.”

Brandon McClounie, the vice president of Camping and Outdoor Education at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, knows that his 1,000 staff members and 5,000 campers rely on his branch to open. As he waits for the guidance of Ontario’s Ministry of Public Health, he is developing contingency plans that might include shorter weeks and half-capacity camps.

“Preparing for what we don’t know is a challenge,” he said, “but we are very hopeful to have our camps this summer. We know how much some kids want to have a chance to be social right now.”

Many camps across the country have voiced the desire to open, but cannot do so until provincial health officials give them the green light to start the season. Quebec’s YMCA still hopes to offer camps at 10 locations, and traditional venues such as Camp Kéno, Camp Wilvaken and Camp Lac-en-Coeur plan to open if given the chance. Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda announced in a news conference on Friday that summer camps in Quebec might open “in respect of some conditions.” Quebec’s Provincial Association of Camps expects to learn more about what those conditions are from the Directory of Public Health by May 15.

In the past week, some of Ontario’s biggest camps have scrapped their summer offerings. The University of Toronto has cancelled all its summer programs and camps from leadership to track and field to Achieve for Girls. Other camps, such as Muskoka Woods on Lake Rosseau and Kettleby Valley camp near Newmarket, plan to open if given permission by provincial health authorities. Ontario’s framework for reopening the province has yet to make mention of summer camps.

In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, allowing overnight camps is included in advanced phases of provincial reopening plans, but when those phases will start is still unclear. In Alberta, summer camps with occupancy limits are included in Stage 1 of the province’s relaunch strategy, which could begin as early as May 14. Yet, gatherings of more than 15 people are forbidden until an undetermined time.

Camp directors in some eastern provinces where the virus appears to be contained are hopeful they will get permission from health officials to start operating with a few modifications. In New Brunswick, where 118 of 119 COVID-19 cases were considered recovered on Tuesday, certain outdoor activities that can ensure physical distancing could resume as early as May 8. For that reason, Shilo Boucher, president and CEO of the YMCA in Greater Saint John, said that special attention to distancing and cleanliness protocols should result in a safe summer opening for her camp.

On Prince Edward Island, where 25 of 27 cases are considered recovered, camp director Bob Terpstra expects a usual July start date for Camp Seggie, an overnight and day camp in Charlottetown. Still, he expects that physical distancing measures will cut his attendance in half.

“We usually get 700 campers,” he said. “This year, it might be 400 or 200, but it’s still an opportunity to have a regular summer for us and for them. Right now, we would be happy to have that, and I think families will be happy too.”

Jaclyn Massey, a mother from Charlottetown, said her oldest of three is preparing for his second year at Camp Seggie. For him, she said, a modified camp would be better than no camp at all.

“I’m hopeful he will get to go,” she said. “It’s been a weird few months, and the summer would be sad without camp – kids would miss out on a lot of fun.”

The Globe and Mail, May 6, 2020