'We love you folks': Are tensions thawing in B.C. over Alberta licence plates?

The mayor of an interior B.C. town popular with Alberta tourists says it broke his heart to tell them to stay home in March as the COVID-19 pandemic was raising alarm bells around the world.

The mayor of Invermere, B.C., told Albertans to stay away in March and he said it broke his heart

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 as COVID-19 restrictions ease. (David Gray/CBC)

The mayor of an interior B.C. town popular with Alberta tourists says it broke his heart to tell them to stay home in March as the COVID-19 pandemic was raising alarm bells around the world.

"This was one of the worst things I have had to do," Invermere Mayor Al Miller told Alberta@Noon on Wednesday.

"I had a hard time doing that. I love Alberta. I have many friends in Alberta. We want them coming here, but at the time it was not good. There were a lot of very strong, nervous feelings out there with our health authorities and I was here to help support them."

'I got pushback, absolutely'

Despite believing he was doing the right thing in an uncertain time, some didn't agree.

"I got pushback, absolutely. It was unfortunate because I was only trying to do what the health authorities in both Alberta and B.C. were asking us to do."

And that pushback, at times, has manifested itself as hostility directed toward Albertans in parts of B.C. 

A story CBC Calgary posted last Friday about some of that pushback attracted more than 1,700 comments and an avalanche of feedback through social media, email and voicemails.

'Happy to see us'

But a Calgarian with a cabin in B.C. had a different and less hostile experience this past weekend.

"They were more than happy to serve us, and happy to see us, provided we were following the social distancing guidelines," Stephen Johnson told CBC News Wednesday.

And while Johnson says he parked his car in the garage for safety's sake, he says some frustrations go beyond COVID-19.

"There is tension between the two provinces over other issues like oil and pipelines [but] there are good people in B.C. that want us to come because of the economic benefit. The businesses are suffering as well."

'Please do not key our car'

John Richards is taking matters into his own hands, or rather, onto his own car bumper.

Richards' partner is an optometrist and just got a job in Revelstoke, so the couple is moving from Canmore.

He has a friend who owns a screening shop in Revelstoke.

"Can you please make us some bumper stickers that say, 'Essential workers, we are here to help, please do not key our car,'" Richards asked his buddy.

"These are strange times. We all have to do what we can to get by. This is what we are doing to do to hopefully dissuade people from vandalizing our vehicle. That way they will know we are members of the community and hopefully they cut us a break."

Dorenda Bailey was born in Saskatchewan and has lived in Calgary but moved to Vancouver about seven years ago.

"There is a negative attitude out here," she said.

"The whole attitude was, 'We know we live in the best province in the country. We don't really care if you come, or stay, or have a good time because we don't need anybody but ourselves. It frustrates me, ever since I moved here, the attitude."

Cuts both ways

Joan Dingman of Penticton says it goes both ways.

"Already we are experiencing a backlash of unfriendliness toward Alberta plates in various parts of the province. Likely the same is happening for British Columbians in Alberta," Dingman wrote in an email.

"Many of these people have families in neighbouring provinces and are anxious to visit loved ones. And yes, some just want to relieve the stress of the past three months and visit a place of beauty and different pace of life for a short visit. Some have a second home and some bring needed revenue to our tourist starved economy. I'm not convinced someone coming from Vancouver is any different from someone coming from Alberta."

A resident from Summerland raised an interesting point about the cultural connectedness of the two provinces.

"We hope to camp near Field, B.C., in Kicking Horse Campground in June. Our wheels are a camper on loan from a generous Alberta relative," Sharon O'Shaughnessy wrote in an email.

"Will we be sensing disdain from fellow B.C. citizens? Hope not."

'We love you folks'

Meanwhile, the mayor of Invermere says we are living in unprecedented times.

"I think it's fear, and rightly so. It's like fighting a third world war only you can't see it. You are just never sure who you are coming in contact with. But as long as we are doing the right things, I think we are going to come out of this pretty well," Miller said.

"We love you folks," he said of Albertans.

'Come together as Canadians'

Tracey Mardon has lived in Saskatchewan, West Vancouver, Edmonton, and about five years ago retired in Kelowna.

She says the division between Alberta and B.C. really bothers her, in part, because of how she was treated when she lived in the Alberta capital.

"We could not have been more welcomed when we moved to Edmonton," Mardon said.

"Not a soul said, 'Oh, you have come from B.C., so we will treat you like this.' There was none of that. So I don't have any tolerance for it. And I hear it all the time," she said of some Kelowna attitudes.

Now in a global pandemic, more than ever, is a time to unite and find common ground, she said.

"Please just come together as Canadians. I think this will come back in the fall and what we need is for people, all Canadians, to be there to support each other, not to call people different or make barriers that don't need to exist."

With files from Rachel Ward, Danielle Nerman and Alberta@Noon


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