British Columbia

Border town mayors in B.C. remind residents on both sides to stay put

Dr. Bonnie Henry Henry is asking anyone who lives outside the province to postpone or cancel non-essential trips to B.C.

‘Winter is ours to lose,’ says mayor of Fernie, a popular Calgary destination

Fernie, B.C., Mayor Ange Qualizza is optimistic that if people follow Dr. Bonnie Henry's advice against non-essential travel and do not move back and forth over the B.C.-Alberta border, the likelihood of salvaging a winter ski season is high. (Bob Keating/CBC)

If you are an Albertan currently staying at a holiday home you own in Fernie, B.C. that's fine, says the local mayor, as long as you don't go back and forth.

On Thursday, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced extensive new restrictions and recommendations aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, including advising against non-essential travel in and out of B.C.

For many people living along the B.C and Alberta border, moving back and forth between the two provinces can be the norm for a whole host of reasons — medical appointments, work, shopping — and now, local mayors are reminding residents the current situation is anything but normal.

"If we don't do the right thing now, quite frankly none of us are going to get back to it in January,' said Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza in an interview Friday on CBC's Calgary Eyeopener. 

"Winter is ours to lose," she said, quoting the title of a recent Fernie Chamber of Commerce awareness campaign.

Fernie Alpine Ski Resort sold more season's passes this year than any year before, said the city's mayor. The community is a second home to many out of province travellers during the ski season. (Fernie BC/YouTube)

She said the local ski resort has already sold more seasons passes than ever before and she is hopeful that if everyone hunkers down now, winter activities can continue and people and businesses will see the benefits.

Fernie, about a 30 minute drive west of the Alberta border, is frequented by many Calgarians, locally referred to as 'Califernians', who spend ample time in the community during the winter ski season.

Qualizza says these homeowners are welcome members of the community who spend many months there and are part of the fabric of the city. She does not have concerns about Albertans who decided to shelter in their Fernie homes, but does not want to see a stream of red and white licence plates coming into town now.

"If you are already here as a Califernian of course you should stay here because you've been here all along," said Qualizza, adding Albertans with pending travel plans to B.C. need to push the pause button.

"If we really buckle in for the next 14, 21 days, we're going to head into a wonderful ski season, a wonderful winter activity season," she said.

Many people in Dawson Creek, B.C., travel regularly to Grande Prairie, Alta., for essential and non-essential reasons. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Further north, in Dawson Creek, B.C., Mayor Dale Bumstead said residents were relatively unscathed by the virus in the spring but that has changed with this second wave and people need to be vigilant about hygiene and social distancing

To be in line with Henry's wishes, residents must also curb non-essential travel to Alberta despite Grande Prairie, Alta., being a go-to city for many.

"We absolutely are an Alberta border community," said Bumstead, who said this will impact many with tight connections in Alberta.

But Dawson Creek has had a hard time recruiting health care workers and the mayor is worried about straining existing resources.

'It's the capacity within our healthcare system that we all should be concerned about," he said.

Henry's new restrictions apply to everyone living anywhere in the province. They came into effect on Nov. 19 at midnight and remain in effect until Dec. 7 at midnight.

People who commute or need to travel for work can continue doing so.


Tap here to listen to the Nov. 20 interview with Dale Bumstead on Daybreak North.
Tap here to listen to the Nov. 20 episode of Calgary Eyeopener including an interview with Ange Qualizza.

With files from Daybreak North, Calgary Eyeopener

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