A new superhero camp has soared into Canada’s half a billion dollar camping industry, with hundreds of Toronto children signing up this summer.
From July, young superhero wannabes will be tackling obstacle courses, crawling under giant spider webs, climbing walls and trying their hand at archery at the Heroheadscamp running in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.
Upon graduation, the kids will be handed a certificate identifying their special super power, along with their very own cape and mask.
This is the first summer Heroheads is on offer and already 700 children have registered — a stark indication of the popularity of camps for Canadian kids.
Camping has been a rite of passage in Canada for many generations, with the first documented summer camps starting as early as the 1800s.
But, behind the traditional camp experience of bonfires, tents and canoes is a thriving industry that entertains more than half a million children each year and employs tens of thousands of people.
Claudia Sjoberg, the B.C. mother of two who coined Heroheads, has been riding the wave of this booming industry for almost three decades.
Back in 1986, Sjoberg was a 25-year-old physical education graduate who decided to start a swimming school for kids.
Her Atlantis Programs Swim School grew so rapidly from word of mouth that every class was full in less than a year.
“Within the first few months I could tell it was going to catch on,” Sjoberg said.
A few years later, she decided to expand the business out to offer bike camps for children as well.
When Pedalheads Bike Camps proved equally as popular as Atlantis, Sjoberg rolled the clubs out across the country.
Three years ago, the business that started as a one-woman swim class broke into the U.S. camp industry.
This year, Sjoberg is kickstarting Heroheads because “every kid wants to be a superhero.”
Her latest camp creation aims to teach children physical skills such as catching, throwing, balancing and agility in a unique and fun way.
With Heroheads added to the list, Sjoberg will be responsible for 800 employees and almost 40,000 children across Canada and in Washington State this summer.
Sjoberg, who received no business training, said she had no idea her small swim school would grow into such a thriving business.
She initially had to teach herself how to file taxes and navigate payroll systems, but Sjoberg said the business ballooned so dramatically she quickly had to employ office staff to help handle her accounts.
The success of Sjoberg’s camps stemmed from Canada being the “traditional camping capital of the world”, according to Heather Heagle, executive director of the Ontario Camps Association, the only camp-regulating body in Ontario.
Camping is ingrained in the Canadian way of life, Heagle said.
Ontario has about 1,400 camps, some of which are over 150 years old. The camps cater to people as young as 18 months to as old as 80 years, she said.
More than 350,000 children will attend a summer camp in Canada this year, with parents paying anything from $300 to $1,500 a week per child.
In Toronto alone, the camping industry will hire 70,000 people for the summer, Heagle said, adding that Canada has more camps per capita than the U.S.
“This is a half a billion dollar industry. It’s unbelievable,” she said.
“Camp is one of the most exciting times for a child. School can build knowledge about details and metrics, but camp builds self esteem, decision making, team work, leadership and new skills,” Heagle said.
“It’s about wanting to get into the outdoors and away from it all.”
Etobicoke mother Cassandra DeGrace, 30, has registered her children Lennon, 6, and Eleanor, 4, into Pedalheads and Heroheads for the first week of July.
The duo will be attending Heroheads from 9.30.a.m to noon and Pedalheads from 1.p.m to 3.30.p.m.
Eleanor is particularly excited about Pedalheads because she wants to kick the training wheels off her new bike, DeGrace said.
Meanwhile, Lennon is counting down for Heroheads because he has “always wanted to be a superhero.”
“One of my neighbours had a daughter in Pedalheads last year and she told me about the new superhero camp. I thought it was such a great idea,” DeGrace said.
“The kids are really looking forward to it — they can’t wait.”