The volume of tourists in the Windermere Valley over the Christmas holidays and continuing into January has been extraordinary and troubling. Extraordinary, because the resorts, ski hills and businesses are having a great season. Troubling, because there is a world-wide pandemic and British Columbia, Alberta and the entire country have travel restrictions.
The vast majority of tourists who come here are from Alberta. They are second homeowners and vacationers seeking the solitude and recreational opportunities this area offers.
The travel restrictions between provinces are only suggestions and cannot be enforced. The provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia warn against nonessential travel; however, what is that exactly?
When the pandemic started I tried to keep my thoughts on how our family can stay safe separate from my feelings of people who refuse to adhere to the suggestions of our top doctors. I haven’t worried about what other people are doing. Lisa and I take calculated risks. We have continued to work throughout the pandemic. I work directly with tourists and I am very careful. I don’t always do the things I am asked by tourists if I feel I may be in harm’s way.
Lisa looks after her elderly parents. Like many their age they have health concerns and it’s essential they are kept safe.
This Christmas our grown children stayed in Calgary due to the travel restrictions. We talked via FaceTime but it was a very quiet Christmas.
All the while the valley was teeming with tourists. Overflowing as a matter of fact.
Alberta has had difficulty controlling the Covid virus with about twice as many daily cases as British Columbia. Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenny, after ignoring the crisis for many months, implemented heavy restrictions. One of which was to not allow people from different households to gather in the same house. This was a good reason for many Albertans to vacation in British Columbia where the restrictions are much more lax.
Our small town politicians and business leaders haven’t helped the situation. In short, they have rolled out the welcome mat with little care for our elderly, medical staff and frontline workers.
In the December 3 edition of The Columbia Valley Pioneer, just as the second wave was starting, there were two articles of interest.
One was written by local physician, Gareth Mannheimer. Dr Mannheimer is Chief of Staff of Invermere and District Hospital. He has been instrumental in keeping the area informed of the dangers of Covid.
In his article he warns the second wave is in the valley and spreading. His article is sobering.
The second article that caught my attention, was the lead article on Page 3, it was titled, Second Wave of COVID-19 Pandemic Looms Just as Winter Tourism Season Set to Begin, with the byline, Local Officials Urge Calm and Measure Approach, Highlight the Columbia Valley Made it Through Summer Tourist Season With Pandemic Going On.
Our Mayor and local businessman, Al Miller, is quoted within the article, “There’s never been a better time to get out on the local ski hills or get out to the many other winter activities we have here. It will be good for your mental health, good for you physically, good for local business, good for keeping people at work, and good for community spirit and well-being.”
That’s a mouthful. And yes that’s our mayor and not the President of the Chamber of Commerce, although he held that position in the past. Perhaps he forgot what hat he was wearing.
Our provincial MLA, Liberal, Doug Clovechok wasn’t much better.
Clovechok pointed out that the travel advisory is a just that — an advisory — and not part of the actual provincial order (which is enforceable by RCMP), and said it’s important that people remember “that just because your license plate is a different colour doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong,” alluding to Columbia Valley second homeowners who happen to be from Alberta (and have red licences plates instead of the blue ones associated with B.C.). “In the summer months, there was travel going on, but there were no major spikes in COVID-19 in B.C, and almost no cases in the Columbia Valley. That’s because people were following protocols…I strongly suggest we continue to do what we did this summer, continue to take it seriously, and follow the rules that will keep us safe,” said Clovechok. “If you protect yourself individually, we’ll be okay collectively.”
The only person quoted in the article who showed good sense was Radium Hot Springs Mayor Clara Reinhardt who said, “We’ll work on the economy when we get through this. We need to focus, primarily, on one thing at a time, and right now, that’s making sure everybody is healthy and safe.”
This is what it comes down to; the virus is spreading at a rate we haven’t seen since it started. The vaccines are here, but could be many months before they make a difference to the spread.
The virus has mutated into several other varieties concerning health experts. These varieties have been detected in Canada. Finally, there are travel advisories warning against nonessential travel. Perhaps it’s time they are taken seriously.
It would be easy, and not necessary to be enforced by law enforcement. The first thing that has to happen is the mixed messages have to stop.
Let folks know when travelling to another province they must quarantine for 14 days. Stipulate what is essential and nonessential travel, with bulletins posted on provincial websites. For instance, vacationing in a second home is unnecessary, travelling for a medical appointment is necessary, travelling to another province to recreate (skiing, snowmobiling, partying) is not essential.
Bonnie Henry and Deena Hinshaw, B.C.’s and Alberta’s top doctors respectively have said, staying at home saves lives. Does that mean the opposite is true, travelling unnecessarily costs lives?
We are Canadians, we naturally want the best for other Canadians. Covid has tested our resolve. It’s time to get tough, if it means sacrificing for a while so be it.
Lead image: Sign posted as visitors enter Radium from Kootenay National Park. Bob Ede Photo
– Bob Ede is a lifelong Columbia Valley resident, photographer, writer and blogger (Palliser Pass).