Rural Communities and Long Weekend Visitors

[Ashleigh Weeden, standing outside, speaking to the camera]

Hi. My name is Ashleigh Weeden, a PhD candidate in rural studies in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph.

Over the last month, I’ve joined a research team at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation and we’ve launched a project to explore how COVID- 19 is affecting rural Canadians and what they’re most concerned about.

As we head closer to the unofficial start of summer here in Canada — the Victoria Day May long weekend — I wanted to share some early insights from our research, which may help explain why rural leaders across the country continue to ask seasonal residents to stay home.

First, many of the conversations about tensions in cottage country right now tend to focus on the perspective or experiences of seasonal property owners, who are understandably frustrated about being told to stay away. Unfortunately, this tends to render people that live in these communities year-round as being just part of the landscape.

It’s important as we talk about this crisis not to turn this into us-versus-them, seasonal-versus-year-round, rural-versus -urban, but about how our individual actions have community consequences and how we can make sure we’re taking good care of each other.

Secondly is rural communities tend to be relatively delicate ecosystems, whether this is about the capacity of a local health care system to handle a second surge in the spread of the virus, or the capacity of a local grocery store to make sure that everyone has the supplies they need, or about the devastation we feel when there’s an outbreak in a local care home and everyone’s affected because everyone’s interconnected.

Rural communities are overwhelmingly populated by older adults who are more at risk of catching COVID-19 and baring significant consequences of the virus and it’s important to keep in mind that keeping exposure risk low for rural communities is important to making sure that they can get through this crisis intact.

Third, as we look towards the future, it’s important to keep in mind that while there may not be a federal travel ban or provincial travel ban saying that you can’t go somewhere in particular, many local communities have instituted either their own hard or soft barriers to cottagers to going to their seasonal property. This may take the form of orders from a local medical officer of health requesting or even ordering people to stay away. Some communities have even turned off water services to seasonal properties, and in the case of many First Nations, their borders have been closed.

Further, should you go to these areas, they’re trying to keep safe the same way urban areas are. Many of the amenities that you’re used to visiting simply won’t be open. Beaches are closed, public washrooms are closed, and many of the restaurants and businesses that you’re used to visiting are trying to mitigate the risks as well.

Rural Canada definitely wants to welcome you with open arms when it’s safe to do, so but that time just isn’t here yet.

In the meantime, let’s stay home, stay safe and take good care of each other.