“We need the border to be opened as soon as possible or we won’t be here,” said Ryan Runge, owner of the Slate Falls outposts near Sioux Lookout, Ont. “We need a plan to completely reopen the border so that our businesses can survive. … Vaccinated Americans should be allowed to cross the border on July 22 with a full plan in place (from the Canadian government) long before that.
Runge said he bought the business in 2019, had a full year of operation, and had mostly been closed since. Without the financial leeway given by the previous owner and his bank, Runge said he would have lost the business by now.
“And that also has an impact on you. I probably go to Duluth as much as to Winnipeg. But obviously I can’t now, ”said Runge,
The media event was sponsored by Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario, a tourism advocacy group that represents many of the more than 1,000 lodges and camps in the area, of which approximately 150 are owned by US residents. The group reports a drop in activity from 91% to 97% across the region in 2020 and 2021, with the Canada-U.S. Border closed since March 2020, apparently in an effort to prevent the movement of those potentially infected.
Floatplanes crossing northern Ontario are still inactive this summer. With over 97% of their business coming from U.S. customers, Ontario resort owners say they either need the Canada-U.S. Border to open later in July or face financial risk. (Photo courtesy of Slate Falls Outposts)
While much of the media coverage of the Minnesota-based border closure has focused on its impact on the northwest corner of Minnesota, with 119 residents and a handful of lodges, the closure is impacting thousands of residents of Northwestern Ontario dependent on American tourists coming to northern Minnesota to get there.
“We had 88 employees before the pandemic. … The United States is 97% of our business, ”said Alex Cheesman, owner of the Wilderness North Air Fishing Outposts near Thunder Bay, Ont.
More than a million U.S. residents visit northwestern Ontario each year, spending more than half a billion dollars, said Laurie Marcil, executive director of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario. She said many lodge owners have spent their savings to stay afloat during the pandemic, and members of the group have on average incurred an additional $ 100,000 in debt.
In parts of Northwestern Ontario far from Canadian population centers, including the area directly north of Minnesota, some businesses have lost 100% of their revenue, with virtually all of their customers in the United States.
“A lot of these companies haven’t had any income since 2019,” Marcil said.
Still no reopening plan announced
So far, the governments of both countries have simply extended the monthly closure each month – 15 times – with no apparent public plan for when and how the border might reopen. The border remains closed until at least July 21. While there has been plenty of speculation a reopening of the border is near, lodge owners fear their government will simply extend the closure until August 21, a move that would kill most of their 2021 season. .
“The lack of a long-term government plan (to reopen the border) really makes me feel like I’m slowly dying,” said Carol Anniuk, owner of Young’s Wilderness Camps on Lake of the Woods near Nestor Falls. , Ontario. “We need the border to be open now. … We cannot live in a bubble forever.
Tourism officials noted that the United States and Canada have infection rates well below World Health Organization guidelines for opening borders, and vaccination rates are increasing in both countries.
Anglers fish on a lake accessible by air in northwestern Ontario. Owners of fishing lodges and lodges in the area say they need the Canada-U.S. Border open as soon as possible to save what’s left of the 2021 tourist season. (Photo courtesy of Slate Outposts Falls)
The Ontario tourism group has sent a formal request to the Canadian federal government agencies involved to stop the monthly extensions to the border closure, form a plan for a limited reopening, and allow fully vaccinated U.S. residents to cross overland. if they show proof of where they will be staying. Business owners note that it is not difficult to socially distance oneself in the woods of northern Ontario, and they have offered their area as a test for a limited reopening of borders.
In addition to lodges, hundreds of businesses that support the tourism industry – gas stations, bait shops, pilots, guides, grocery stores, hotels and restaurants – have all seen their activity drop to unsustainable levels.
While the Canadian government has offered grant and loan programs for the hard-hit tourism sector, many business owners say they just can’t afford to take on more debt without a clear sign when they start again. to collect income.
“We’re out of time,” said Jackie Duhamel, owner of Anderson’s Lodge in Sioux Lookout, Ont. “We need the border to be open now. “