Hospice Northwest office is closed to the public due to COVID-19 but services are still being offered.

Heartsteps – Grief Camp

With feeling hearts, healing starts

heartsteps is a residential weekend-long camp that affords children and adolescents who have experienced a death-related loss opportunities to experience healthy grieving alongside peers and trained volunteers.

"Canada has almost 7.5 million children under the age of 18 and over 203,000 of them are bereaved (someone in their close family has died). The death of a parent or sibling has been found to be one of the most stressful life events that child or youth can experience"

Source: Children & Youth Grief Network

heartsteps offers a safe and inclusive venue for healthy grieving to begin and/or continue. Campers travel in small groups with their cabin leaders throughout the weekend’s schedule, coming together for whole camp activities such as Campfire Night (S’mores included!).

heartsteps, while not a therapeutic camp, offers activities that are grief-specific as well as those that are outdoor recreation-based. Campers build confidence, share stories, and acquire healthy grieving skills and tools to take with them back into their everyday lives.

Throughout the weekend, campers are reminded that:

  • they are not alone;
  • whatever their feelings, they are perfectly normal;
  • grief is expressed in ways that are unique to the individual, and that grief is not something to "get through" or "get over"; and,
  • children grieve differently from adults, and that that is okay.

heartsteps grief camp - 2022

30 campers between the ages of 9 and 15 and their 18 trained adult volunteers will spend the weekend in May 2022 at Dorion Bible Camp (Dorion, ON). Details to come!

At this time, we can accept campers who live in the City of Thunder Bay and the District of Thunder Bay, although a satellite camp is under development for the Rainy River and Kenora districts.

Date of Applications To Be Announced!



heartbears from heartsteps grief camp

Looking to volunteer?

Join us for a weekend as a volunteer at the heartsteps Grief Camp.

Meet the Directors


Keri-Lyn Durant is an educator (certified in the UK and Ontario), actor, director, and playwright and has been an applied theatre specialist for over three decades, trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in. She and her puppet, Phoebe the Sloth, work in paediatric palliative care and as community death educators. No stranger to the camp experience, she has been a camper, a camp counsellor, and a grief camp volunteer at two grief camps in Manitoba.

Keri-Lyn is a PhD candidate at Lakehead University where her research involves exploring perceptions of dying, death, and loss through applied theatre. Current projects include research assistant for the DEAR team as well as freelance writer for the Canadian Virtual Hospice.

Keri-Lyn lives in Manitoba near Lake Winnipeg, with her beautiful wife and three sweet, kooky dogs.

Keri-Lyn Durant
Director: Keri-Lyn Durant

Vice Director

Mandi Merkley is a Certified Child Life Specialist and is currently running the only Child Life program in Northwestern Ontario, at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Through this program she ensures that each child's psychosocial and developmental needs are being met. She provides preparation for tests, procedures and surgeries, as well as therapeutic
coping support for children and families to minimize anxiety, stress, and trauma.

Mandi graduated from McMaster University and obtained certification as a Child Life Specialist over a decade ago. She also holds a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Early Childhood Education. She has experience working with children and families in many other facets as well, including child welfare, facilitating parenting and domestic violence programming, and childcare.

She also runs a side-business in lifestyle family photography.

Mandi grew up in Thunder Bay and now lives just outside the city with her partner, children, and two dogs.

Mandi Merkley
Vice Director: Mandi Merkley

Frequently Asked Questions

Interested in becoming a volunteer at Heartsteps Grief Camp?