As a large yellow school bus pulled into Camp Weredale, less than two hours north of Montreal, counsellors were enthusiastically welcoming the last group of summer campers who got the chance to escape the city for the day.
The camp has been a safe haven for kids from all walks of life for decades, but this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional sleep away camp had to be cancelled.
“We were very fortunate to have and create a program exclusively for the youth services division,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Puszati.
In partnership with the West Island CIUSS and Batshaw, the camp managed to be able to operate for the summer at a third of its regular capacity.
“We were able to accomodate not more than 24, 25 people per day,” said Puszati.
In addition to a limited capacity, there were many changes around the camp: toys and sports equipment were cleaned after each use, hands were frequently sanitized, social distancing rules were respected, and when they weren’t, masks were mandatory.
“We felt it was important that we could at least ensure everyone that were taking every measure possible to make sure that we don’t bring COVID into the camp,” said Program Director Johanne Kralka.
Despite the high turnaround of participants, the camp didn’t have one COVID case all summer.
Weredale was only able to operate as a day camp, but for kids who have been stuck for months in isolation, a day trip to the camp is a big plus.
“They’ve really had their ability to be out and enjoy recreational activities and sports almost shrunk to a minimum or even zero at times,” said Kralka.
“They really needed a place where they could relax, let go a little bit.”
After sanitizing their hands and splitting into their group, participants get to choose from a wide variety of water and land activities.
“They get to choose if they want to do archery or slingshots, or go swimming or tubing, it’s really up to them and we give them that freedom,” said Counsellor Abbey Kruse.
Many people take those summer activities for granted, one Weredale Foundation Board Member says.
“A simple fishing trip to the lake, many of us would take that for granted,” said Weredale Foundation Board Member Judy Martin. But for one kid who caught a fish during her visit this summer, “it was an absolutely priceless.”
The camp board members, directors and counsellors hope that however the kids spent their day at Weredale, the camp will have a lasting impact on their lives that ripples into the fall.
“In spite of a pandemic, we have succeeded and it put smiles on everybody’s faces, but the most important are the smiles on the kids’
faces,” said Martin.