By Gordon Lambie
Local Journalism Initiative
In mid-May, the province of Quebec gave the green light to residential summer camps to open up their cabins and dust off their cots after having stayed closed in the summer of 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, however, the realities facing camps over the next few weeks are more complicated that a simple yes or no decision.
Speaking at the end of May, shortly after the go-ahead from Quebec City, Quebec Camping Association Executive Director Eric Beauchemin said that traditional overnight camps in the province were split into thirds, with one third going ahead, one third holding off, and a final third left in uncertainty about what to do with the short timeline. Between questions about sanitation, capacity limits, and whether or not staff will be able to come and go from the site.
Frontier Lodge, near Coaticook, opted out early, announcing in late April that their traditional day camp, overnight camp and family camp planning would take another year off in 2021.
Brian Wharry, the director of the Quebec Lodge Outdoor Centre on Lake Massawippi said that despite having left the door open to the idea of welcoming overnight campers back, his team ultimately decided that 2021 isn’t the year for it.
“It’s just not going to work for us,” Wharry said, explaining that the camp’s shared day camp and residential camping model is too complicated under the current health restrictions. “You can’t mix the groups.”
Quebec Lodge opted to stick with its more established day camp approach for this summer but does plan to come back to the idea of overnight camping in the years to come.
“We’ll go back to it next year,” Wharry said.
Both Clea Corman, the new Executive Director of Camp Massawippi, and Brian Murphy, the Executive Director of Camp Livingstone, said that their camps have opted to go ahead with overnight camping in one form or another this summer.
“We’re opening at a very limited capacity,” Corman said, sharing that where her site would usually welcome up to 60 campers per week, this year’s maximum will be 16 for each of the six, week-long sessions. “We’re usually more of a traditional summer overnight camp, but this year we’re offering more of a respite model.”
Camp Massawippi’s focus is on offering an accessible camp environment for children and adults with physical disabilities or challenges, and Corman said that normally the site would draw campers from across the province. With group transportation options off the table and long-distance travel still not strongly encouraged, however, the camp is looking at a summer where visitors will more likely come from the immediate vicinity.
Murphy, meanwhile, said that even if things need to be adapted this year in terms of capacity or approach, everyone on his team is really excited to be able to move ahead.
“Our summer team is actually committing to three to nine weeks where we won’t leave the site,” he said, explaining that in order to make sure that campers and staff are as safe as possible, the usual downtime needs to be modified.
Camp Livingstone’s capacity for the summer is more or less halved, according to the director, who said that the limit was determined by the number of people they could safely fit into a socially distanced staff bunkhouse.
As a result, the camp will be running a full day camp for four weeks, two weeklong “family camps” focused on activities for individual family bubbles, and one week of overnight camp later in the summer.
In both cases, the directors said that they are working hard to try to keep the camp experience as normal as possible for the people who end up coming, even if they will be working with less revenue and higher costs.
“We’re still opening, which is the most important part,” Corman said, adding that, “We’re doing everything that we can to offer a safe and secure environment.”
“We’re trying to meet a need in the community,” Murphy shared, noting that for those accustomed to going to camp every summer, 2020 was a shocking change. “For those who do come, we’re conscious for the fact that this will probably their first sleepaway of any kind in a year and a half.”