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Camp Mini-Yo-We goes from overnights to daytime Family Adventures

Mini-Yo-We Family Adventures
Camp Mini-Yo-We goes from overnights to daytime Family Adventures
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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In a regular summer, Port Sydney, Ontario’s Camp Mini-Yo-We would be home to hundreds of boys and girls. But like all overnight summer camps in the province, they weren’t allowed to open this year because of COVID-19.

So Mini-Yo-We decided to try something different. They’ve opened their site to day visitors in a program they’re calling “Family Adventures.” It’s a one-day camp extravaganza – but now it’s open to everyone.

The two hour (or longer) trip might seem an excessive distance to travel for the camp experience. But the Mini-Yo-We team was the first to reinvent the popular Muskoka experience so they could welcome visitors this summer.

And since beginning the program a few weeks ago, they’ve already hosted a number of families from both Oakville and Halton Region.

Mini-Yo-We’s executive director Rich Birch says a family camp was the #1 requested new program for years, and summer 2020 was previously planned to be its debut. Now, of course, the site is doing exclusively family programs.

“Family adventures are a chance for families to get out of the city, come to Muskoka for a day, and enjoy a slice of what we normally do for campers,” says Birch. “Now they do it together as a family unit.”

And why was it so important to do this in summer 2020? “Camp in general is a social environment. And kids have been playing on this property for 74 years,” Birch explains. “We did this so families, or all people, have a chance to come together.”

What the Day Camp experience is like

“Family Adventures” cost $50 per person for the day-long excursion. “Families” is the name of groups booking together, though all members should be in the same social bubble. Groups can be any number up to a maximum of ten.

Each family also gets a private, indoor cabin with washroom and change room for the day. Each cabin gets a personalized itinerary of four activities on land, in the water or both. And yes, hot lunch is included.

There are 15 staff who live on site, made of a mix between year-round staff and volunteers coming up for the week. Some of them were set to be staff at camp for the full summer this year. Others who were set to be on staff are now here as participants with their family.

Brianna Klein of Whitby, Ontario was one of those previously hired staff. Today, she’s here with her parents Brian and Sarah and her brother Caleb. They decided to come because “there’s a whole lot more opportunity than the park at home.”

Brian Klein was a camper when he was a child, and now he gets to experience camp with his children instead of just sending them. He says it was worth the drive because “it’s a new experience from what’s in the suburbs.”

It’s open to new and returning visitors

Returning visitors aren’t the only ones coming to visit. The Hwang Family from Shanty Bay had never been on site before, but they were having a blast. Their daughter Naomi says “It’s the best day ever – we forgot about Covid!”

The most exciting part of their day was on the site’s water zipline. It begins at a lakeside tower, but thrill seekers soon fly down the wire into the lake, overlooking “Dead Man’s Island.”

Guests going out of their comfort zone is a popular pastime here. Birch explains that, however, has always been part of the focus.

“When kids come here in the summertime, even at five years old, that’s the beginning of a leadership development journey. For us, that ends with coming on staff and serving for an entire summer. Turning around and serving campers to come behind you – that’s a major reason for what we do.”

Yet extreme events like the water zip line is only one of the featured activities available. There are nine core activities that could be on a family’s unique schedule that come in packs of four (two in the morning and two in the afternoon.)

Birch says you can sub one out, however, on request. “It’s pretty easy for us to accommodate what people want to do. And we want people to have a chance to do what they’re interested in.”

The other Activities at Camp Mini-Yo-We

Birch says the staff’s collective goal was to create the most sanitary place possible, even beyond the government’s guidelines. “We want to create and practice new sanitation and social distancing protocols now so we can be ready for summer 2021.”

“Mini-Yo-We is going to provide you with a bunch of activities you simply can’t do in the city. Whether it’s on the ziplines or archery or canoeing on a beautiful lake – it’s a chance to make memories that literally will last a lifetime.

“This a chance to do things together, and this is a strange season that we’re living in and so families are enjoying the chance to get away from it.”

And that water zip line isn’t the only one on site. In 2018 they opened the “Skyline” – a triple zipline on land that starts by crawling up a 50-foot tower. After launch, they send you racing down a large field and into the forest canopy.

It’s Birch’s favourite activity on site. Some of the other activities include archery, high ropes, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking and archery tag. And like all areas of camp, it’s the being far away in Muskoka that lets the experience be extra special.

“Our location is special because we really believe in getting people outdoors,” Birch highlights. “We all think that a big part of what we’re we should be doing is getting people on the lake, in the forest, and enjoying being outside. In an increasingly digital and screen based culture, we want to encourage getting people outdoors.”

Mini-Yo-We changes in a season of change

Part of opening this year meant adapting to the necessary changes of working in the COVID-19 world. Masks are optional for families outdoors, but it’s mandatory for the staff at all times. (They are also required indoors for everyone.)

Health forms also need to be filled out and submitted to Mini-Yo-We before your arrival, and all activities have new operational procedures. In each case, equipment is disinfected between every use, and that’s sometimes hard to do when everything is outdoors.

The answer? Portable rinsing buckets for disinfecting equipment at the zip lines, for example. And that’s not the only new installation made.

Hand sanitizing stations are everywhere.

“We quadrupled our order for hand sanitizer this year,” says Birch. “And we have only a quarter of the visitors.” That’s a big change from the 400+ people who are normally on site each day. It also means people are using 16x the hand sanitizer from past years.

The biggest change is serving food – currently, the large dining hall remains empty. Now, food is delivered in picnic baskets to the family cabins for lunch, to be enjoyed indoors or at an outdoor picnic table.

It’s a different program in a season that demanded something different

The most disappointing thing for not opening camp this summer is that we have families who’ve been coming literally for generations. In some cases, this is the first time in three or four generations that someone isn’t on property.

“One of things that makes us different is our mission is to develop tomorrow’s leaders through life-changing adventure,” says Birch.

“We actually see ourselves as a youth leadership development organization and not a kids camp. We host a kids camp, but we do that because we think it’s the best platform for developing young leaders.”

What makes the family adventures different is that fostered connection now goes beyond kids to other kids. Now it’s about that connection of family members to one another.

That’s been Birch’s mission for over 25 years, the mission of Mini-Yo-We for 74 years, and the mission of camp for centuries.

But like all things in this new pandemic world, change has created an opportunity to try these things in a new way.

Family Adventures are available for bookings now through the rest of summer 2020.

Registration is available online with Camp Mini-Yo-We.

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