Visitors Center along Hwy 5 to the town of Valemount, B.C., with the Cariboo Mountain range in background. (Village of Valemount/Wikimedia Commons)

Northern communities welcome tourists as province opens to in-B.C. travellers

Officials have asked British Columbians to be careful as they travel this summer

  • Jul. 6, 2020 7:00 a.m.

By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat

More than a month-and-a-half after the government began reopening sectors of the economy, the Premier and B.C.’s top medical officer announced it was safe enough to support local businesses and travel around the province.

“We found a balance of increasing our contacts and doing it in a way that’s safe,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We need to keep this balance for the coming months until we have an effective vaccine or treatment.”

On June 24, the government announced the province could move into Phase 3 of the restart. All accommodations, tourism operators, movie theatres, restaurants, bars, and retail outlets could open provided they conformed to public health and WorkSafe BC protocols.

The same day of the Phase 3 announcement, the Village of Valemount declared itself officially open for business.

“Welcome back to our community and surrounding area,” said Mayor Owen Torgerson. “The mountains are ready for you.”

Crowds over 50 people are still not allowed, nor are conferences and other large public venues. Even large family get-togethers continue to be discouraged.

Henry cautioned people to maintain safe physical distance from those outside their bubble. “The things that we have been doing will get us through this very unique summer,” she said. “And will get us through the upcoming fall as well.”

We need to remember we are not leaving COVID-19 behind, said Horgan. “It is here in every corner of British Columbia and we need to behave accordingly.”

READ MORE: B.C. ready for in-province travel, John Horgan says

It was all of us who flattened the initial curve, Torgerson said in a press release issued on June 24. “It will be all of us ­that will be responsible for the safe implementation, and ultimately, the success of B.C.’s restart plan,” he said.

Horgan says he hopes as British Columbians travel farther afield, they will be mindful they’re going into someone else’s neighborhood. “They should be respectful of that and practice the same procedures that they put in place in their own hometown, in their own community, wherever they’re traveling to,” he said.

We can all move at our own pace, said Henry. “Some individuals may choose to continue to limit their social interactions… and some communities may decide that they are not yet ready to receive visitors.”

Residents of McBride have mixed feelings about the reopening of the economy, said Mayor Gene Runtz. Businesses need more customers but with an older demographic and limited healthcare resources, villagers are understandably nervous, he said.

The decision of whether or not to encourage tourists in the community will go before municipal council, said the mayor, who in mid-March took the unusual step of publicly asking visitors to stop visiting the village.

“That was different,” said Runtz. “Everybody was scared to death.” It was early days in the pandemic when some snowmobilers hit town and were disregarding public health rules, he said. “These people were not respecting what was being said in B.C., so, we said, `If you can’t behave yourself, just stay away.”’

Still, restaurants and businesses need tourists, the majority of whom typically come from Alberta, said Runtz. No one knows how much of a gap in-province tourists can fill.

Either way, the mayor already knows how he’ll be voting in council. “I want to see people come back right now,” he said. “It’s time.”

READ MORE: B.C. reopening travel not sitting well with several First Nations

McBride is by nature, a friendly place, said Runtz. “If people start coming in, and if they self-distance, and are respectful,” he said. “I don’t see any problem at all.

There are a lot of places to go and a lot of capacity within the system, said Horgan, who is hoping for a holiday himself in the middle of August after the current legislative session has ended. “People should, if they have the time and have the ability, they should be planning their holidays right now.”

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