It's lonely on Neil Carleton's section of the lake near Kenora, but it won't be for long. The Ontario government is reopening its western border to Manitobans.

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It's lonely on Neil Carleton's section of the lake near Kenora, but it won't be for long. The Ontario government is reopening its western border to Manitobans.

Carleton, who lives in Manitoba but has an off-the-grid cottage across the border at Lake of the Woods, said many of the neighbouring residences have been empty for weeks.

"There are probably about 100 cottages on our bay, but there's nobody there," Carleton said Monday. "We're pretty excited about the border (news).

"There are two that lived here during the winter — lucky them, they have heat — but everybody else couldn't come. You could only come for essential reasons, and for us it was setting up the electric fence. Five or six years ago, we had bear come through the window of the cottage and it made a mess. I had to come to make sure the fence was charged and working. We don't want another bear to get into the cottage."

The Ontario government announced Monday it would allow Manitobans to again cross its border late Tuesday, opting to let an eight-week ban on non-essential visitors expire.

"Individuals will be able to enter Ontario via its interprovincial land and water borders. Those entering Ontario must continue to follow the public health measures in place in the province," wrote Stephen Warner, a spokesman for Ontario's solicitor general.

On April 19, Ontario set up checkpoints at its interprovincial borders to stop all travel not deemed essential (exempting issues such as medical care, transporting goods or exercising Indigenous rights) to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The order will expire Tuesday at 11:01 p.m.

Anyone entering Manitoba, including those coming home to the province, will still need to quarantine for two weeks, unless they had a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days earlier, which is the benchmark for coronavirus immunity.

The exception is Manitobans who own property just over the border.

Ontario has looser restrictions than Manitoba, allowing its patios to welcome groups of four, and groups of 10 to gather outdoors. Non-essential stores can serve 15 per cent of their capacity — except for shopping-mall stores that lack their own exit to the outdoors; only those with street entrances can welcome customers.

Those loosened restrictions took effect on June 11, except in parts of the province with soaring cases caused by the delta variant (such as the city of Timmins).

As the weather improved last month, the Free Press revealed Ontario Provincial Police were turning back dozens of Manitobans from the border daily.

People were trying to use loopholes, such as needing to do renovations on their cottages or drop off goods, Kenora OPP said.

The OPP had gone from turning away three or four people per day in April to about 30 in mid-May on the Trans-Canada Highway. Its marine unit was also instructed to question any vessel that appeared to be crossing the border during regular patrols.

Carleton said his interactions with the OPP were positive, and police were willing to let people with legitimate reasons access their cottages. But many others spent the last two months watching other Manitobans enjoying their residences at the Whiteshell Provincial Park, along the shores of Lake Winnipeg, or at other greenspaces and lakes in the province while they stayed home.

"The first time, (OPP) gave us 24 hours," he said. "You can imagine there is a lot to do when you go to the cottage for the first time in the spring. It was stressful, but we got it done.

"Now, we will be able to just (go) again."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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