Canadian summer camp operator facing a staff shortage after a pandemic, mountaineering costs


Although health restrictions have been lifted and demand has returned, summer camp operators across the country say they are addressing staffing issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Douglas, executive director of Timberline Ranch in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, said on Saturday that it’s harder to hire staff this year than any of the last 16 years he’s been with the organization.

Douglas, vice president of the British Columbia Camping Association, said Timberline wasn’t the only one. Many camp operators are forced to reduce their programs or reduce the number of campers because they cannot find enough people to work.

“Unfortunately, in the end, fewer kids could go camping this summer,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many camps were completely closed in 2020 and operated under strict restrictions last summer. With few health restrictions this year, Douglas said operators were looking forward to returning to normal and recovering losses in the case of private camps.

However, he added, the closure blocked key staff in many camps. Older campers in the summer program often return within the next few years to work as counselors, and operators rely on that pipeline, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic broke that connection in the chain.

Restaurants and retail stores are also struggling to find employees, he said. This means that anyone planning to become a camp counselor can choose from a myriad of summer jobs.

According to Douglas, the charity Timberline has increased salaries, reduced working hours and set up some staff activities and perks to attract workers. Camps typically employ about 80 people for a 24-day camper van and 144 guests. In staff training starting Friday, he said the organization still lost about five key people.

In Ontario, Raf Choudhury is also looking for summer camp staff at Baseline Sports in northern Toronto. Choudhury usually employs 15 to 20 people each summer, but so far this year only 5 people have been hired.

“I feel there is more demand, but I can’t keep up with it because of staffing issues,” says Choudhury.

“Even if you want to expand and go to more places, it’s not feasible at this point.”

Choudhury also hires young people (usually teens aged 18-20) to oversee his three outdoor sports camps. Two years after the pandemic, he said they seem to have other priorities.

“I think people are aware that they have more work to do and are willing to sacrifice their work for that,” he said.

Nick Georgeard, director of Camp Temagami in northeastern Ontario, says staffing is a challenge for him every year and so far this year he hasn’t had a hard time finding people.

Rather, he said, this year’s challenge comes from the courses and certifications needed to work at Camp Temagami, which offers canoeing trips in areas far away from Labrador.

During the pandemic, these first aid and wilderness survival courses were not offered. In short, the staff leading this year’s trip required a lot of costly and time-consuming training and recertification. Georgeard said his company arranged and paid for it.

“Basically, we need to make it as easy as possible for them, otherwise it’s a barrier to entry,” he said.

He said this is another significant cost of the year of high inflation, adding that he expects food costs alone to be 20 to 25 percent higher this year.

“All costs have risen dramatically,” he said. “And our rates were set this summer in September.”

Sarah Smerry

Canadian press