Calgary

Albertans in B.C. border towns find hostile reception at times due to COVID-19 worries

As Albertans seek weekend mountain getaways, some are findings their presence in B.C. communities isn't always warmly received.

Woman with red-and-white licence plate reports receiving 'go home' note

Jessica Grey, who lives in British Columbia, says she received this note on her car, which has Alberta plates. (Jessica Grey)

As Albertans seek weekend mountain getaways, some are finding their presence in B.C. border communities isn't always warmly welcomed.

Jessica Grey, who has lived in Golden, B.C., for 15 years, was recently driving her mother-in-law's car with an Alberta licence plate. She says she came out of a grocery store to find a sticky note on the vehicle that read, "Go home."

"To be honest, I haven't driven the Alberta-registered car since," Grey told the Calgary Eyeopener. "I don't want this car to be scratched or damaged by anyone."

Grey posted the note to Facebook and received nearly 300 comments. Some have said they've experienced similar interactions and even had damage done to their cars. Others said they were staying away this summer to respect health guidelines to limit travel.

Those living near Alberta's western boundary appear to be keenly aware that the province — and especially Calgary — have battled several large outbreaks recently. 

British Columbia RCMP say officers are watching out for COVID-19 disputes. Although they have received no such complaints in Golden as of Friday, they have received two reports in other communities.

Police said that in April, a man in Columbia Valley spat at a vehicle with an Alberta plate. On May 18, a man in Trail verbally confronted a woman with an Alberta licence plate, RCMP said.

"The male was worried about the possible COVID transmission from Alberta. The female had been living in B.C. and had not yet changed over to B.C. licence plates," the news release said. 

Non-essential travel discouraged

Officials are discouraging all non-essential travel between provinces but ask that people practise understanding. Earlier this week, the B.C. government also announced it would follow Alberta's lead by limiting camping reservations to residents only.

"The B.C. RCMP are mindful that many British Columbians and Albertans alike reside in one province and commute to the neighbouring province for essential work," the RCMP said in a statement.

"The public should respect that they may not have all the information regarding someone's personal circumstances or purpose for being outside of their home province."

Grey said she has spoken to some of her neighbours who also have Alberta-registered vehicles, and said they have chosen to park their cars indoors to avoid negative interactions and vandalism.

"You're actually fearing that something like this will happen," she said.

Listen to the full Calgary Eyeopener feature on Albertans in B.C.:

Go home - that's the message drivers with Alberta plates are getting from some residents in B.C. resort towns. 5:45

British Columbia's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Bonnie Henry, echoed the RCMP on Tuesday by noting that Alberta and B.C. are very integrated and share workers, families and industries. That's why, she said, it's not "practical" to restrict travel between the provinces.

"We are leaving it up to people's good behaviour, and for the most part, that has worked," Henry said.

"And we can't assume just because we see an Alberta licence plate that somebody is a visitor. It could be somebody who works here who lives in Alberta or vice versa."

Some welcome visitors

In Radium, Debra Keller and her husband are hoping more Albertans do come to their town. They own Leo Burrito and say they'd appreciate more business. 

Old Salzburg, the restaurant next door to Leo Burrito, put out a sign that reads "Welcome back Alberta!"

Other businesses in town did the same and Keller said she and her husband support the move.

"Before he had put that sign up, people were coming in or they were phoning in and saying, 'Do you have an issue with Albertans?' And we were like, 'No, of course not,'" Keller said. 

"I think it's just some of those people that are just paranoid," she said, referring to nervousness around catching COVID-19.

The Old Salzburg Restaurant in Radium, B.C., put up a sign saying 'Welcome Back, Alberta,' as the flow of visitors from the neighbouring province increases following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. (David Gray/CBC)

John Schnare in Nelson, B.C., said he's watched more and more Alberta licence plates arrive in his community since Easter.

He has a hard time believing all of them were in town for essential needs but hopes that regular vacationers will choose to stay home and avoid potentially spreading COVID-19 to his community.

"It's disappointing to see that people would choose to take a vacation in a rural area. We don't always have really significant medical services and emergency services necessary to deal with an outbreak," Schnare said.

"It wouldn't make any difference whether I'm not anti-Albertan or anything."

He said if someone from the State of Washington came to town for vacation, he would consider that visit to be irresponsible, as well.


With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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