With national and provincial parks, marinas and trailer parks reopening, Canadians are likely making plans to head to scenic areas of the country this long weekend.
But many rural communities in these areas continue to struggle with the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University of Guelph researchers.
A pan-Canadian team of researchers at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) is investigating how the pandemic is affecting rural communities.
A national organization, the CRRF works with researchers and communities to support rural resiliency. Having surveyed rural community leaders on how they are managing the pandemic, the group has recently published a series of rapid research reports called Rural Insights.
“The Rural Insights series will leverage the skills and knowledge of our network of leading rural researchers to provide important, timely information and recommendations to support rural leaders in navigating the road ahead,” said Sarah Minnes, CRRF president and a post-doctoral researcher in the Conservation of Change Lab in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.
The research team, which includes Prof. Ryan Gibson and PhD candidate Ashleigh Weeden, both of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, as well as researchers from other Canadian universities, has just completed its first report on supporting rural economic recovery.
The group found rural residents are concerned about how their communities will survive the crisis and recover economically. Many of these communities have seen significant job losses in tourism, food service, retail, construction and mining.
While urban centres face many of the same job losses, these challenges impact rural communities differently. These municipalities often have smaller populations, meaning a limited workforce and smaller tax base. Many also rely on fewer industries, many of them seasonal.
Many rural Canadians also worry about how they might be affected by surges in tourists and seasonal property owners coming to their communities, said Weeden.
“Everyone is being challenged by this crisis, and for rural residents it’s not about ‘us versus them,’ they are just worried their realities aren’t being considered right now,” she said. “Rural communities tend to be relatively delicate ecosystems, and many residents are concerned about the capacity of their local health-care systems to handle later surges in a second wave of the spread of the virus, or the capacity of their local grocery stores to ensure everyone has the supplies they need.”
U of G researchers will continue to study how rural communities are being affected by the pandemic through the CRRF Rural Insights series, providing information and recommendations to decision-makers to support rural leaders. Future reports will examine agriculture, rural health, immigration and infrastructure investment.
In the video below, Weeden offers insights about why many rural communities worry about an influx of visitors over the long weekend and into the summer. [Transcript here.]