A lobbyist for Manitoba cottagers has a blunt message for anyone disappointed that Ontario’s exemptions to impending border closures don’t include cabin season: suck it up.
Ontario will be setting up checkpoints at the Manitoba and Quebec borders beginning Monday to restrict movement in and out of the province to essential services. The order clarifies that only those whose main residence is in Ontario will be able to travel between the provinces, meaning Manitobans who own cottages in northwestern Ontario are out of luck.
That’s just fine with Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners president Gus Wruck, who said "the law of the land prevails" in times like these.
"These are the rules, and we’re bound to abide by them… every time they put these rules into effect, there are always exceptions," he said. "But in the case of cottages, I don’t expect there will be any exceptions, because that’s not necessarily an essential service."
He personally hadn’t heard any cottage owners disparaging the rules but said there may be some who consider their cottages a principal residence.
"I think we have to understand that in spite of it all, we are cottage owners and whatever comes up in terms of laws and regulations from Ontario, we have to abide by," he said.
One Winnipeg cottager, who did not want to be named publicly, told the Free Press Friday he found the measures "useless" for those who travelled to their cottages without making any stops.
"Which province poses more of a threat? Ontario or Manitoba?" he said. "Maybe (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford should consider the absurdity of this meaningless measure and admit that it’s a shallow attempt to cover up for his mistakes."
On the other side of the border, Kenora’s Casey’s Grill Bar co-owner Wade Duguay said he already expects his business to "drastically be changed for the worst" as a result of the border closure.
"It’s going to start affecting our business, for sure it will," he said. "Most of our customers are from Manitoba and the outlining areas, so our business drastically changes, there’s a massive influx in the summer season."
Regardless, he said he struggles with his personal feelings around the decision – he’s not angry about the decision made by the Ontario government, but recognized it affected his business severely.
"A lot of it, what are my moral thoughts on it, and what are my business thoughts on it," he said. "My business thought would be, ‘This sucks,’ obviously. But my moral thoughts would be on the safety of people with the pandemic. It’s a tough one."
This will be the second rough summer for the bar and grill, which Duguay said relies extensively on the summer tourist months to survive, largely from Manitoba travellers.
"With the rate that everything’s going, and the direction we’re headed in right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get a summer at all. Am I scared of that? Yes, for sure I am, but I was scared when this all started, and we’re still around." ‐ Kenora’s Casey’s Grill Bar co-owner Wade Duguay
"I’ve kind of resigned to the fact that our summer is kind of shot already. With the rate that everything’s going, and the direction we’re headed in right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get a summer at all," he said. "Am I scared of that? Yes, for sure I am, but I was scared when this all started, and we’re still around."
Kenora resident Heidi Bergman said even as Manitoba’s case numbers rise, she doesn’t see the border lockdown as "necessarily a good thing."
"My hope is that it’s lifted very soon," she said Saturday. "Our area, up here, doesn’t have a lot of cases, we’ve been lucky we’ve been able to keep it low. And even with the people coming in, we’ve had cottagers come in, and it really hasn’t raised our case rate."
She will continue to travel across the Manitoba-Ontario border because she receives regular medical treatment in Winnipeg that she can’t access in Kenora, but said it’s not without some trepidation.
"I have a mother-in-law in long-term care, so I’m trying to be extra careful, because I don’t want to inadvertently bring something into a long-term care home," she said. "So there’s hesitancy on my part."
Regardless, she said she’s sympathetic to Manitoba cottagers who want to take advantage of the warm weather in northwestern Ontario.
"I understand the frustrations – these people, these are their second residences," she said. "They’re still paying taxes, they contribute to our community when they are here, and they’re a part of our community."
As the second cottage season under COVID-19 approaches, the province is again discouraging non-essential travel. Around this time last year, the province was discouraging Manitobans from traveling to their cottages and possibly overwhelming health care centres in those areas. This year, Ontario police have been permitted to turn people back who don’t have a valid reason for entering the province.
"Consider travel plans carefully," a release from the province from Friday evening reads.
On Saturday, Manitoba announced 183 COVID-19 cases, the province’s highest daily total since case counts were above 200 in January. Most cases are from the Winnipeg health region, which reported 127 cases, with 24 in the Northern Heath region, 13 in Southern Health, 12 in Prairie Mountain Health and seven in the Interlake-Eastern region.
Three deaths were also announced, two men in their 80s from Winnipeg and one man in his 60s from the Northern Health region. One of the two deaths in Winnipeg is inked to an outbreak at Health Science Centre in the GD4 unit.
This has resulted in a small jump in the province’s five-day test-positivity rate from 5.1 to 5.3 per cent, and a jump from 4.9 to 5.4 per cent in Winnipeg, after 2,828 lab tests were completed Friday.
— With files from Cody Sellar
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.