National Post Barbara Kay: Innovative camps look to save the summer

National Post - Thursday May 28th, 2020

Participants take part in a game of canoe wars at a camp near Sudbury, Ont., in 2018.

In Ontario and Quebec, day camps have permission to open, but not sleepaway camps. This will come as a blow to many kids who have for months have had to forgo seeing their friends and participating in organized sports, but clung to the anticipation of their annual camp sojourn, where they could be blissfully immersed in both.

I understand the better-safe-than-sorry spirit that guided the decision, but when you think about it, sleepaway camps are — or can be made to be — almost ideal quarantine sites. In Maine, for example, where camps are permitted to use their own discretion, the century-old Camp Modin is offering a template for safe operation that could be applied here.

Camp Modin, which is situated in the Belgrades Lake region, serves about 300 Jewish campers between the ages of seven and 16 annually. This year, every camper will be required to take a self-administered COVID-19 test before their arrival, and again at various times throughout the summer. They will follow recommended protocols, such as at-table service, with disposable tableware, rather than buffets. Communal bathrooms will be closed. There will be no mass gatherings and no outside excursions. Essentially, they will create a camp-wide “bubble,” with staff — who will also be tested before their arrival “well in advance of the campers” — remaining continuously on site.


Perfect safety can never be guaranteed. But in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the camp’s co-director, Howard Salzberg (with his wife Lisa), recalled that Modin had weathered a 1992 measles outbreak, meningitis a few years later and the 2009 swine flu pandemic, when more than 130 campers were infected with H1N1. (Canadian camps were also affected by H1N1 and most carried on despite it.)

Yet some Canadian camps are thinking outside the box, in order to comply with government regulations, but still provide a camp experience. My Montreal grandchildren, plus one from Toronto, go to Camp Wingate, which is situated on a beautiful little lake in the Laurentians and is big enough to offer a full slate of activities, but intimate enough, at 150-200 kids, to be cozy. They love it, so they were at first devastated to learn that the season was cancelled, then elated when the camp re-invented itself to meet this unique challenge.

I spoke with Wingate director Cory Pecker, who outlined the camp’s plan, which in every respect complies with government and Quebec Camping Association guidelines. It will begin with two weeks of day camp. Lucky for us, the camp is not too far from our country house, so the kids can stay up north and avoid the hour-long drive to and from the camp.

Participants take part in a game of canoe wars at a camp near Sudbury, Ont., in 2018. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

If that goes well, the camp may continue for another week or two. Then, it will rent out individual cabins (a maximum of nine) to families, as private units with their own bathroom and shower. It would, Pecker said, be like “their own private country house.” Most of the camp’s facilities will be open to them: swimming, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, six tennis courts, two basketball courts, archery, rock climbing, arts and crafts.

Meals will be taken in the dining hall, but there will be no buffets. They will have a doctor on site. It will be kind of like “a mini-Club Med,” Pecker laughed, with enough staff to facilitate instruction in, and enjoyment of, the activities. He said other camps he knows of are considering similar plans, as well.

I couldn’t be happier for my grandchildren — and my kids. I think the family holiday part sounds divine. The only downside is that the big draw of Wingate for a significant number of its campers — including my 15-year-old granddaughter — is the fact that it boasts a near-regulation-size hockey arena, which sadly didn’t make the cut for permitted activities.


Kids with a passion for the game normally get top-notch instruction from Pecker himself, whose love for hockey was nurtured at the same camp (in fact, his parents met there). Since he went on to be drafted into the NHL (Calgary Flames), and played 10 years of pro hockey, I could well understand his still-boyish enthusiasm for paying it forward to other kids.

Pecker is hoping the rules will ease up after awhile and that the rink will be allowed to open at some point during the summer. But Wingate will “obviously be following the rules,” whatever they turn out to be.

If this were any other year and I learned that the kids were going to camp, but suddenly the hockey rink wasn’t functional, I’d have been terribly annoyed. As it is, I am so thrilled that they can go to camp at all, it seems a small price to pay.

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