1 July, 2020
Since 1914, Pathfinder has operated each season, through pandemics, world wars, depressions, and cultural upheavals. My grandfather Phid Goodwin and his brothers, my dad Chuck and my uncles, my cousins and sons, all enjoyed camp seasons despite whatever was happening in the wider world. But for 2020, Pathfinder is quiet, the 107th season closed by civil order.
Time to look both ways, ahead and astern. The Early Bird offer is launched today, July 1, with the 2020 early rates, so Pathfinder families can credit their 2020 tuitions ahead to next season. And our 2020 prospects, alumni families and school partners are all eligible to have these rates, too. By Sept. 1 it looks that Pathfinder will be full for Summer 2021.
For this summer, Canadian Pathfinder families who can reach Algonquin may stop in for a distanced hello at camp, or have free access to canoes and gear for their own park trips. A tiny senior staff work crew is on-island, shining up our special campus for next summer’s action.
The look back? How did the camps-closure unfold in Ontario? What’s been happening with Pathfinder Island during this singular season?
Did the COVID-19 pandemic close the US-Canada border?
Yes, the border was mutually closed on March 18, 2020. I was fortunate to be in Ontario at that time, so moved to Huntsville to isolate, where cases were and have remained low. Since that time, the border closure has been extended numerous times, through ice-out in late April, the Algonquin spring weeks at camp, and into this hot summer. No one can say when the border will be reopened to more than essential health and commerce transits. Since the number of active virus cases is out of balance between our two countries, the wait could be long.
What was it like in Algonquin during the initial lock-down March-April?
Honestly, things seemed more like the 1980s in Huntsville and the Park in those early days of the virus response. Quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that one could drive through town and through the Park without seeing more than a couple other vehicles. People in central Ontario stayed home. But for the camping community, there were daily Zoom meetings and lots of work. The goal of 450 camps at that time was to find the way to opening for the summer.
When were Ontario overnight summer camps closed?
On May 19, after weeks of study and consultation, Ontario announced that overnight camps would not be permitted to open for the 2020 season. Day camps were later given the option to operate under severe constraints. It is believed the government hoped day camps would provide some day care for workers who could not isolate at home all the time. In fact, only a handful of OCA day camps did open and operate.
Did Pathfinder prepare to open and operate if possible?
Yes, planning started March 19 and continued until May 19. We planned for full operation with screening and hygiene measures, or a delayed-start limited operation with reduced capacity and session lengths. But these plans were shelved when the province closed all overnight camps.
Who closed the camps?
In Ontario, the provincial government closed the camps via a May 19 press conference with premiere Doug Ford. The premiere’s office was advised by Ontario Health.
What was the decision process like?
The premiere’s COVID team and Ontario’s Ministry of Health worked with the Ontario Camps Association over many weeks in March - May to study whether camps could safely operate. As more knowledge about the virus and its transmission emerged, it became more clear to all parties that children’s camps would unavoidably become a vehicle for accelerated transmission of the virus. Youth leaders, adult staff, and family members back at home were most at risk. While children could be infected, pediatric cases with severe outcomes were then thought rare. Yet the chance that children could infect others around the province was the deciding factor.
It was also assumed that active cases emerging at summer camps would cause them to be closed, and parent-camper confidence in the camps’ safety injured.
Physicians advised Ontario Health, including Pathfinder’s own Dr. Aaron Orkin. Their advice, combined with OCA input, was important to the closure decision. OCA member camps including Pathfinder reluctantly agreed with the opinions at large, and joined the OCA in its support of the camps-closure order. A closed season was ahead.
Was the Park also closed?
Yes. Until later May, Algonquin Park was closed. Commercial leaseholders were allowed to be in the Park. I was able to visit regularly, whether driving through or visiting camp once ice went out. Eventually, some public day trip visits were permitted in the Park, but no backcountry or campground access was permitted. In addition, there was no staff presence or enforcement in the Park at that time. May saw low water and a strong storm that raked the park, felling trees.
What’s the Park like now?
In June, the Park opened to boating and fishing. In July the Park has finally opened some campground spaces and permitted back country travel and camping. On some weekends, activity seems normal. But mostly, the Park has been a quiet place this season.
How could we assemble a work crew at Pathfinder Island?
The Ontario emergency declaration permitted non-essential businesses to conduct mandatory basic maintenance. A crew of 4 Canadian staff joined me on June 1, and we focused on basic maintenance, including a lot of clean up from the severe May wind storm that dropped several big trees on CPI. Later, a provincial limit of 5 people congregating expanded to 10, and the camp work crew increased to that number. We now stand at 9 workers, tackling a long list of projects.
By June 25, it was possible for camps to request permission for alternative programming. Pathfinder began to offer camp families trip outfitting, to undertake some new power crew projects, and to prepare for possible school programming in September. In the end, no Fall programs can be conducted after all.
What power crew are you tackling at camp?
The crew has done so much already, since early June. Here’s a sample list.
Canoe Dock rebuild
Canoe canvassing, patching, painting
Staining, painting of camp buildings
Varnish finish of deck chairs
Screen window repair
Add skirting and trim to lodges
New stringers in Cree Row
Build a second ladies fort
What’s next for the power crew?
Refurbish Dining Hall and Rec Lodge windows
More canoe work
Rebuild Luigiville fort
Trip equipment repair
Replace roofing, candy store and old boys fort
New railings at cedar deck, upper cree row, calendar board
Repair and stain small staff cabins
Repair ball shack
The special projects
Currently the big project is rebuilding of the Canoe Dock. This is the perfect time to do it, since normal seasons see the dock in use all day – every day. Next up, a new fort cabin for ladies. And more? Stay tuned.