Reinventing camp for second summer in row Operators lean on rentals, day camps to fill early-season pandemic hole
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/06/2021 (710 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Circle Square Ranch is known for bringing the Old West to children via its summer camps. So far this year, however, it has only been migrant farm workers from Mexico who have experienced it.
The new tenants have helped the camp near Austin, some 130 kilometres west to Winnipeg, survive two COVID-19 pandemic-restricted summers in a row.
Dan Ingram, executive director, said it has worked out great for the camp, the migrant workers, and now the children organizers hope will come to the planned day camp this year.
Sunshine Fund begins annual summer camp drive
You might say the provincial government kicked off the Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund this year.
Last week, when Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, accompanied by chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, announced the reduction of some of the restrictions aimed at keeping people safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they also gave the green light to allow children to go to summer camp... at least in a limited way.
Under the heading “day camps,” the province moved the needle from “closed” to “open to a maximum of 20 participants in groups.”
And, with that, the 41st annual Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund — our campaign to help children of lower-economic means have a chance to go to summer camp — has sprung to life.
“They farm the fields and then they stay here,” said Ingram. “It’s a win-win because otherwise they would have to rent 10 to 15 houses, but this is close to where they work.
“And they’ve been 100 per cent of our business, so we’re grateful for it.”
Ingram said Circle Square is planning to run day camps, with children from nearby communities only as far as Portage la Prairie. They will move in after the migrant workers move out.
“When they are done (harvesting) is when the day camps start — the timing is great.”
It’s just one example of how a summer camp, traditionally a place where children from urban centres get a taste of rural or wilderness life for a week or two, has had to reinvent itself to survive amid the pandemic.
Whether it is giving migrant workers a place to stay during harvest, running day camps, opening up cabins to families or people seeking a summer escape, or simply closing the doors for continued maintenance projects, summer 2021 looks more like a repeat of 2020 than the pre-COVID times of 2019.
For a second consecutive summer, overnight camps are not yet allowed in Manitoba.
On Wednesday, when Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced the lifting of some of the restrictions aimed at protecting people by reducing the spread of COVID-19, they said day camps could open with a maximum of 20 participants in groups.
The province also said indoor and outdoor swimming and wading pools can open at 25 per cent of capacity.
Kim Scherger, executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association, said it all adds up to a number of members deciding to run day camps this year. They are already sending out sign-up information; some could open as quickly as July 5, she said.
Scherger said the province has told the association, under the next reopening target, if 75 per cent of eligible Manitobans have their first vaccine dose and 50 per cent have two doses by Aug. 2, overnight camps will be allowed at 50 per cent capacity.
“It would be safe to say at this time approximately 30 of our 35 accredited camps will be offering programming in some form which includes day camps or family camp rentals,” she said.
While members wait for Aug. 2, Scherger said the MCA has come up with its Open Camp Safely plan.
It includes operating with reduced capacity based on public health guidelines, personal protective equipment, sanitization, as well as following cohort and group sizes, and physically distancing during meals and any other large group gatherings of campers.
Meantime, Pioneer Camp Manitoba would be just days away from welcoming dozens of young campers to their first overnight wilderness experience at its summer camp just across the border in Ontario.
But there’s nothing normal during the pandemic.
For a second summer, up to 120 children weekly won’t be heading to overnight camps at the picturesque site on MacKinnon Island on the lake that is Winnipeg’s source of drinking water.
Instead, the camp is not only pivoting, it is temporarily changing locations.
Neil Steward, executive director, said it will be operating day camps in Winnipeg, starting July 12.
“We could hold camps (at the camp itself) in August, but we don’t want to have them have to quarantine for two weeks when they get back,” he said. “We were concerned we weren’t going to be able to do anything this summer.”
Steward said the city camp will still instruct children on wilderness training, including how to set up a tent and use a compass.
“We call ourselves a skills-based camp, understanding the wilderness and what is around them,” he said. “Next year, we hope they can transfer those skills out here.
“We’re not going into the long-term day camp business. We are just doing what we can.”
Steward said the decision to go with a day camp comes after weeks of Ontario border restrictions preventing staff from even accessing the site.
“We are eight kilometres inside the Ontario border,” he said. “For the first few weeks of the closure, we tried to cross, but the OPP (police) didn’t feel it was essential.”
Staff finally got to the camp June 2 in order to do maintenance needed whether the camp opened this year or not.
“Like so many camps, we have an amazing community of support,” Steward said. “We have seen donors come through for specific expenses or to our general fund. And, in 2020, a lot of parents deferred or donated their fees.
“That was great because we haven’t seen revenue since 2019.”
Johnathan Beardy, manager of Red Rock Bible Camp, located near Rennie, some 120 km east of Winnipeg, said its doors will be shut to children this year.
“I’m hoping next year,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean the gates are closed.
“Last year, we had family campers,” he said. “We have cabins and they are available for folks to rent.”
Jeff Liba, chief executive officer of Variety Manitoba the Children’s Charity, said much as it would like to open its Camp Brereton, COVID-19 will keep it closed another summer.
“It is sad,” said Liba. “It’s tough for us.
“This is now the second year we won’t won’t be able to operate. But this allows us to do a little bit more work at the camp than normal.”
Meanwhile, Ingram said the 10 to 20 children expected to attend to Circle Square’s day camp will do everything outside.
“When we saw the reopening plan, we cancelled overnight camps,” he said.
“We have an old western town, but no one can enter the buildings. And, with day camps, we cut off two-thirds of our camping base because we’re almost two hours from Winnipeg.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.