After the pandemic forced a year of shuttered camps and cancelled programs, there were a lot of smiles and joy as local summer camps finally reopened this week.
City of Orillia day camps got underway this week, and so far, everything is running smoothly, says the city's recreation program supervisor, Jack Mair.
“We’ve had excellent feedback from parents so far, they are happy to have their children back in our camps. The campers seem to be having a good time, they are able to hang out with kids they haven’t seen in a long time. It’s been really great,” he said.
Camp counselors are still working out the kinks of operating camps during a pandemic, which is still a challenge.
“Our supervisors and their planning have incorporated some creative and unique experiences so even though the kids have had to maintain physical distancing they are still enjoying their time,” Mair said.
Some of the protocols that campers must follow include wearing a mask and completing daily COVID screening. Staff are also masked and are tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
Despite the pandemic, there is no shortage of parents who are hoping to send their children to camp this summer.
“We have had a major increase in demand for camps this year. We have reached 70 percent capacity so far, and a lot of our camps are actually full for any given week,” Mair said.
“There still is space available for those interested in registering. It’s been a great rebound compared to last year.”
To register for a City of Orillia day camp, click here.
It's been similar at Camp Couchiching. Executive director Jen Dundas says it is gratifying to have children back on the property.
“It was so joyful to have campers come in on Monday morning. In fact, I had to take an emotional moment and a little bit of a weep,” she said.
Dundas says one of the most interesting parts of seeing children interact with strangers for the first time in over a year is learning about their perspective of the pandemic.
“They have this scope that COVID is something that hit their family, it made them go on their computers for school, and they weren’t allowed to be around people. They are telling stories in that kind of way,” she said.
“They seem really happy to be connected and kind of doing more typical and traditional activities that they haven’t been able to do over the last year.”
At Camp Couchiching campers are screened on an app before arriving. Parents are also asked to keep their distance when loading their children onto the bus or dropping them off. A big pandemic-related challenge for the camp staff has been the weather.
“When it thunderstorms we keep all the kids apart in their cohorts because when we are inside we can’t do all the singing, dancing, and sports because of public health guidelines. But campers are still really happy at the end of the day,” Dundas said.
Registration for Camp Couchiching programs are mainly all sold out, the demand was higher than ever before.
“I think parents wanted to send their kids back out with other kids to take part in activities that are away from a screen,” Dundas explained.
“They are also thankful to have a few moments to themselves and have an opportunity to recharge their batteries while knowing their kid is safe and having fun.”
Orillia's Tim Sayle sent his two sons to Camp Couchiching this summer. He says he is confident his children are safe from any COVID-19 concerns while at camp.
“The current situation in Ontario gives us general optimism with the rate of cases being so low. Another important element is the camp has a lot of really great safety precautions with things like the morning COVID check-in,” Sayle said.
“The camp has also provided a lot of information about how they observe public health protocols throughout the day. It seems well organized, and a lot of thought went into running the program safely, which is excellent.”
Sayle says it’s been a breath of fresh air having his children go off to camp; it’s allowed him to get back into a routine.
“I was at home with them when they were doing online schooling and I was trying to work from home. So, I’ve been able to get an enormous amount of work done this week which has been really good after the year we’ve had.”
Sayle’s nine-year-old son, Henry, says being at camp has been the highlight of his summer.
“It’s really fun, and I like doing all the fun activities. I did rock climbing, and art tree,” Henry said.
Henry says the best part of being back at camp is interacting with other children.
“Doing stuff online kind of separates the people, so it was really nice being back with other kids,” he said.
Six-year-old Charlie says he is looking forward to taking part in more Camp Couchiching activities later this week.
“I like swimming with the life-jacket on, and I’m looking forward to going on the bus and having fun at the beach party,” he said.