By Mike Gast
RV owners in the U.S. are looking forward to a return to “semi-normal” camping trips this summer, but that isn’t the situation north of the border. While the entire 5,525-mile-long Canada/United States border remains closed to all but essential crossings, new COVID-19 rules and regulations in each province are making camping trips for sequestered Canadian RVers nearly impossible in most locations.
In Ontario, there is a mandatory stay-at-home order in effect until at least May 20. The order also includes a closure of all Ontario borders to travel between provinces. Many travel industry experts are expecting the order to be extended beyond May 20.
Ontario isn’t alone. The Nova Scotia border has been closed to individuals coming into the province, including those entering from nearby Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
Manitoba is limiting outdoor gatherings to a maximum of five people and has closed restaurants, bars, gyms, salons, casinos, and day camps. The same basic rules are in place in Alberta. Residents of Quebec have a 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily curfew along with multiple business closures. British Columbians are currently restricted from traveling beyond their home districts in that province.
All of this is nothing but bad news for Canadian campground owners
“This certainly isn’t the spring we were anticipating at all,” says Alexandra Anderson, Director of “Camping In Ontario,” a private association of campground owners in Canada’s most populated province. “We thought that the summer of 2021 would be a breeze, but that isn’t the way it’s looking. COVID-19 numbers are just starting to get better, but our hospitals in Ontario are at the breaking point.”
Canada experienced a second wave of COVID-19 infections in early January, followed by a third wave in late April. The problems are compounded by the emergence of new COVID-19 strains from Europe and now India, along with a severe shortage of vaccines in Canada. Anderson said Canada is lagging behind the U.S. on several pandemic fronts. The lack of shots coupled with a confusing array of regulations is forcing Canadian RVers to stay home this spring.
“Last spring, our problem was that people could travel, but the governments wouldn’t let our campgrounds fully open,” Anderson said. “This year it’s the opposite. Campers can’t get to our parks even though most are legally open for business because they are now deemed essential. I’ve got a lot of cranky campground owners out there.”
Anderson said she’d be “thrilled” if campgrounds were truly back in business by May 20, but she’s advising campground owners to plan for a possible extension of the Ontario stay-at-home order.
“Our Victoria Day long weekend is May 22-24,” she said. “If the order isn’t lifted by then, it’s likely we’ll have a lot of campgrounds forced to cancel reservations on what would be a full campground.”
There are a few bright spots on the horizon. Last summer, Anderson said Ontario residents more than made up for the loss of U.S. campers and other foreign visitors. “We had a record summer, even with the late start to the season. We had Ontario residents rediscovering their own province. If we can get the stay-at-home orders lifted and begin to welcome local campers again soon, there isn’t any reason that we can’t have another record summer this year.”
Long-term outlook for campgrounds and Canadian RVers
Bill Richard, owner of the Sault Ste. Marie KOA Holiday in Ontario, said he doesn’t expect the Canada/U.S. border to be open again before fall.
“It’s a crazy time,” Richard said. “The government is convinced that the variants are coming in from travelers and being spread by travelers. Not having an operating border crossing really creates a mess.”
Richard said some Canadian RVers got creative last winter, shipping their RVs south across the border on trucks and then flying to a nearby U.S. airport, picking up their rig and traveling to the southern U.S. as usual. “But most RVers were forced to stay in Canada and come up with other options.”
Anderson said Canada has laws in place that make it difficult to be a full-time RVer, including a requirement to have a regular residential address.
“What we found out last year was that a lot of folks living in their RVs full time were using campgrounds as their residential addresses, and that caused a real problem when the campgrounds weren’t allowed to open,” she said. “They had nowhere to go.”
Many Canadian RVers didn’t have homes other than their RVs and either moved into newly rented apartments or were forced to migrate to more temperate coastal campgrounds in British Columbia to wait out the winter.
“A lot of these RVers just decided to give up the lifestyle and go back to living in a house, I’m afraid,” Anderson said. “And the million-dollar question is whether or not RVers will begin traveling again as before across the border once it’s allowed. I guess we’ll have to wait for 2022 to see what happens.”
AAA Map of COVID-19 Travel Restrictions (U.S. and Canada)