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People who live in Ontario's 'cottage country' want city dwellers to stay home

Even though travel is supposed to have come to a screeching halt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, locals living in Ontario's lakeside towns say big-city day-trippers and cottagers are making regular visits to their communities.

Weekend day trips and self-isolating cottagers could spread illness, strain resources

A woman walks by an electronic sign at the foot of Main Street in Grand Bend, Ont. that tells would-be beachgoers they aren't welcome in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Even though travel is supposed to have come to a screeching halt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, locals living in Ontario's lakeside towns say big-city day-trippers and cottagers are making regular visits to their communities.

It comes despite authorities urging them to stay home to stop the spread of the virus, even Premier Doug Ford has personally called on big-city residents to stay in their hometowns instead of hitting the road. 

The tourists don't seem to be listening, however, especially as the weather gets warmer, making many towns who depend on tourists anxious over the influx of new arrivals.

"It's been getting quite busy up and down the lakeshore for the last couple weeks," Huron-Kinloss Mayor Mitch Twolan told CBC Radio One's Afternoon Drive. 

Mayor turns off plumbing to keep cottagers away

Mitch Twolan is the mayor of Huron-Kinloss Township. (Bruce County)

"It almost feels like it's a May weekend around here and, of course, the weather's nice and I think people are coming up to cottages and people are coming up to isolate."

Instead of rolling out the welcome mat, Twolan is rolling it up and putting it away. He had the municipality shut off the water to hundreds of cottages to discourage seasonal residents from visiting or self-isolating in his Lake Huron community.

"Obviously the concerns of the people going back and forth from their primary residence to their cottages is of great concern," he said. 

Twolan said he's spoken to mayors from lakeside communities from Goderich to Tobermory. All of them are nervous about the recent influx of visitors who could be bringing coronavirus with them from the city. Worse still, if they get sick, it will make what few medical resources they have even more scarce. 

"I'll be honest, the seasonal residents are not happy without a doubt," Twolan said.  "I'm not looking at this as a popularity contest. I'm keeping everyone safe and I take it very seriously."

"I will live with my decision. We won't have a cottage season if everyone gets sick."

'They should stay home. Everybody's scared'

Thomas Lo is the owner and chef of Beijing Noodles House in Grand Bend, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Further south down the Lake Huron shore lies the beachside community of Grand Bend, where they've also seen the steady influx of day-trippers and while they get out of their cars and have a look around, they don't spend their money anymore. 

"A lot of people come in and it's kind of like they're browsing around," said Thomas Lo, the owner and chef of Beijing Noodles House on the town's Main Street. 

"They should not be here. They should stay home. Everybody's scared." 

Lo said he can offer takeout and wouldn't turn away customers, but he doesn't need to – the visitors aren't buying anything. 

"Business is dead," he said. "I was wondering, why would they come here?"

All beaches in Ontario closed to discourage travellers

David Tomlinson is a Grand Bend local who misses his daily walk on the beach. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The beach has always been Grand Bend's biggest draw and discouraging people from leaving home to visit is one of the reasons the province ordered all public beaches closed on Wednesday. 

"It's a little bit inconvenient," said David Tomlinson, a Grand Bend local who takes a daily walk as the sparkling water laps at the sand. It's how he gets out of the house, enjoys the sunshine and clears his head. 

"Now I can't do that. I have to enjoy the water from a distance." 

Tomlinson looks at the towering four-metre tall sign, the orange kind normally used on the highway. It flashes the message "parks and beaches closed by emergency provincial order."

"People who have cottages up here, I can understand the principle of people not congregating in cottage country, to not strain the system," he said. 

"For local residents, I don't see the harm in walking the beach as long as you're maintaining your social distance."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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