Edmonton snowbirds chart new course during pandemic

Countless Canadian snowbirds are making new plans after the pandemic abruptly ended their migration south.

'I might buy myself a heat lamp and a bag of sand and a little kiddie pool'

Alberta snowbirds planning to spend winter at home

1 year ago
Snowbirds who would normally be preparing to head off for warmer climates are now stuck in Alberta preparing for winter thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 3:32

For 16 years, Edmonton retiree Jack McGuire and his wife wintered in Mexico. But like countless other snowbirds, the pandemic has interrupted their usual migration south.

Instead, McGuire is planning a 10-day canoe trip in B.C. while he polishes up his snowblower. He'll see snow for the first time in eight years.

"I'm really disappointed," McGuire told CBC News. "Winter is not real healthy here for a lot of people because the streets are slippery. Older people have to be a little more cautious and we get a lot more exercise down in Mexico than we do here.

"I'm going to look for a pair of winter boots. I've got some cross-country skis that I never sold in the last garage sale."

Although Mexican resorts have reopened, McGuire remains cautious.

"I don't have any underlying health problems, but you still don't want to end up in a hospital in a foreign country," he said.

Quarantining 'real deterrent'

According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, McGuire is one of roughly 350,000 Canadians who travel south annually, now faced with an abrupt change in retirement plans.

Some, like McGuire, are travelling in Canada, according to Lesley Paull, owner of Paull Travel in Edmonton. But international travel is slow.

"These next three or four months, people are just kind of hanging on," Paull said.

"A lot of people really want to travel, but the thought of going for a week or two or three somewhere — and coming back and quarantining for two weeks — is a real deterrent." 

Snowbird Terry Shoemaker is swapping the Arizona sun for a heat lamp in an Edmonton hotel this winter. (Radio Canada/Olivier Periard)

At the Leduc Lions Campground, manager Tamara Carmichael and her husband are trying to figure out what to do.

The couple, like many full time RV dwellers, prepaid last year for their usual spot in Yuma, Ariz.

"So it leaves us in a position here where you're basically paying your rent twice," Carmichael said. "And honestly, a lot of snowbirds go south in the winter because it's cheaper. So now we're looking at paying twice and paying more money if we have to go in somewhere here. And financially, we're not in that tax bracket."

As RV parks in B.C. that offer winter camping fill up, some are choosing another option.

Terry Shoemaker is storing the motorhome he usually takes down to Arizona and settling into a hotel suite in Edmonton where he's determined to make the most of it.

"I might buy myself a heat lamp and a bag of sand and a little kiddie pool, put it in the suite and that'll be my summer place," Shoemaker joked.

With files from Emily Fitzpatrick and Mirna Djukic