Dovercourt emerges from media storm better than ever

By Andrea Cranfield –

Despite some controversy earlier this year, it’s full steam ahead for summer camps at Dovercourt Recreation Centre. In fact, it’s shaping up to be their busiest season ever.

Mackenzie Pollock (8) and her brothers Campbell (7) and Christopher (5) are more than ready to kick off the summer at Dovercourt. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Mackenzie Pollock (8) and her brothers Campbell (7) and Christopher (5) are more than ready to kick off the summer at Dovercourt. Photos by Andrea Tomkins

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After being called out for some gender-stereotyped day camps earlier this year, Dovercourt changed its programming to be more inclusive.

In March, Ariel Troster, an Ottawa-area feminist, mother, and blogger wrote a blog post titled: “Manicure camp for girls, sports for boys. Because it’s 1957,” in which she criticized Dovercourt for reinforcing sexist stereotypes.

“It was enormously offensive,” she says. “It made it really clear that they had programming that was different for boys and girls, they literally had a ‘Man Cave Camp’ for boys… Unless there’s a clearly demonstrable need, dividing kids around arbitrary gender lines is really offensive, it’s really problematic, there’s a lot of gender-diverse, gender-independent, and trans kids that don’t fit in either box.

“And also, really, at the end of the day if you are going to have gender-segregate programming, you can’t be denying opportunities to one sex that you’re giving to the other.”

Some Dovercourt camps were divided into two categories: “Just Girls” and “Just Guys.” The girls’ programming offered camps such as “Fit Chicks,” “Girls Night Out” and “Real Beauty.”

Ottawa mom, Jennifer Blattman, says she struggles with girls being offered a “Fit Chicks” camp in this day and age.

“There is enough pressure from the media for girls to be thin, do we really need the neighbourhood community centre supporting that same mindset?” asks Jennifer.

Boys’ programming also included camps such as “Man Cave” and “Grease Monkeys.”

“The descriptions were exceptionally problematic, they were very different in terms of the expectations of boys versus girls,” says Ariel, who tweeted about the situation publicly and tagged Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, who put in a call to Dovercourt saying the camps were “unacceptable.”

“To be honest I didn’t expect it to go viral,” she says.

“We got called out on it,” says Senior Director of Programs at Dovercourt Steve Nason. “We took one look at the way we had laid it out in the advertising and we went ‘Oh yeah I see exactly what [Ariel] means.”

Steve says Dovercourt had been programming girls’ camps for years and eventually decided to offer boys’ camps as well based on requests from parents. But once Dovercourt realized how the camps could be offensive, they made some changes.

“[We had] very gender-stereotypical activities,” says Steve. “In fact [we were] saying no to boys who may want to go to a program where you’re doing fashion design… Likewise [we were] saying no to girls who want learn about car mechanics and race soapbox derby cars. And for us, there’s no reason why we’re saying no…”

He says the first step Dovercourt took was to “gender neutralize” the camps. Staff also attended a summit organized by the Councillor.

“[We] met with a number of different people and realized it’s not just about gender neutralizing… it’s about how do we become all-inclusive? So that became our next step,” says Steve. “How do you make yourself open to everybody? How do you say things so that nobody feels that they’re excluded?

“Being inclusive is something that we’re proud of, whether it’s having special needs, low income, I mean that’s what we do—so to be called out on something and then when you look at it you go ‘Oh yeah, you’re right, we’re not’ and it’s a lens that maybe we hadn’t been looking through in terms of our programs,” says Steve.

He says from now on, if Dovercourt is going to market a program for one gender only, it needs to be justified.

No one pulled their child out of the camps as a result of the negative criticism Dovercourt received and an estimated 800 to 900 kids will be attending camps every week this summer, with a few changes.

“The girls and boys are equally invited to each camp,” says Steve. “The activities themselves are pretty gender-neutral as they are, karaoke is karaoke and a cooking session is a cooking session and going to fix the cars is going to fix the cars, it’s just that we’re no longer saying that’s a girl’s activity—or that’s a boy’s activity—and based on your gender that’s where you’ve got to go.”

Westboro parent, Katherine Caine-Pollock, says it’s “nice just have a choice” when it comes to summer camps. Her three children are regular campers at Dovercourt. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Westboro parent, Katherine Caine-Pollock says it’s “nice just have a choice” when it comes to summer camps. Her three children (pictured above) are regular campers at Dovercourt. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

In fact, some girls are enrolled in the camps that were originally designed for boys.

Ottawa mom Karen Beattie says she sees value in creating opportunities for girls to spend time with other girls, particularly pre-teens.

“I assume that the boys might like ‘boy time’ as well. Allowing some occasional segregation of the genders isn’t always a bad idea and doing so may help the comfort level of some kids,” she says. “I take issue with creating a space for girls with stereotypical ‘girl’ subjects however. Absolutely girls may want car maintenance, and [boys and girls] should learn these skills. Why wouldn’t boys want to learn to cook?”

Katherine Caine-Pollock’s children are regular campers at Dovercourt. She also sees the value of having some camps for girls- or boys-only. “I didn’t see an issue,” she says. “There are so many mixed camps, it was nice just have a choice.”
Steve says Dovercourt received a lot of positive feedback for reacting quickly. Ariel complimented Dovercourt on their reaction to the criticism.

“I think they did a good job. I think they realized there’s a problem, although it’s problematic that it made it into the programming to begin with,” she says. “I do think that looking at this stuff is a constant process and I’m certainly impressed how Dovercourt responded to the summer camp issue and the fact that they do have an ongoing camp analysis… but I think we have a long way to go.”

Steve says he wants to make sure Dovercourt is not part of the problem.

“I don’t want to be part of that machine that people feel they have to fight against, that’s not what we’re here for, we’re here for fun. We’re not supposed to be on that other side,” he says. “We’re here for the community.”

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