TORONTO -- Last summer, for the first time in more than half a century, Willowgrove Day Camp in Stouffville, Ont., could not welcome campers.

“You make all of your money for the entire year over these two months of the summer, and both of our camps did not run,” executive director, Johnny Wideman, told CTV News. “It was scary for sure.”

It was financially devastating for the day camp, which also runs an overnight camp in Bancroft, Ont. “Fraser Lake” camp was also forced to close due to the pandemic.

The Ontario Camps Association says, while it doesn’t have the exact numbers yet, it knows some of its more than 400 member camps have been forced to shut their doors. So the ability to re-open this year, could be make or break.

“Every camp and every parent, and every camper wants camp to reopen. But none of our camp owners and directors and camp people want camps to operate when it’s not safe to do so,” said Jack Goodman, the chair of the Ontario Camp Association’s COVID-19 task force.

The Association, working alongside health experts, recently submitted safety protocols for the province to review.

They include:

  • Pre-camp testing and screening of campers and staff.
  • Cohorting of cabins or tents.
  • Remaining outdoors whenever possible (i.e. dining outside).
  • Camp staff to remain on grounds on days off and no “visitor days.”

“The government and public health people are working with us. We believe that the sentiment is optimistic. We’ve just got to get through the next month and see that pandemic state become better,” Goodman said.

Wideman said his camps plan to run at less than half capacity. At the day camp, all activities will take place outdoors, masking will be mandatory at all times, and cohorts will never interact.

“I mean, honestly, it’s safer than schools,” he says. “We’re outdoors, and there’s no crossover between teachers and groups.”

And while Wideman is confident Willowgrove Day Camp will be open this summer, he’s still concerned about the Fraser Lake overnight camp.

“We’re still waiting, with fingers crossed.”

Public health officials say it’s too soon to make the call on camps, given the rise in new COVID-19 variants.

However, as more people get vaccinated and cases drop, there is a greater possibility campers will be able to enjoy a getaway this summer.