Where to 'staycation' in Manitoba this summer during COVID-19 pandemic
Travel photographers weigh in on Manitoba gems you can visit without violating health orders
One of Andre Brandt's favourite hobbies — and one he's indulging during the coronavirus pandemic — is to take a short drive out of The Pas, Man., to shoot time-lapses and photos of the bright Milky Way and aurora borealis.
"It's pretty tough to beat our skies," says the photographer and videographer who lives in The Pas, about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Although flights are cancelled, borders are closed and travel restrictions are in place, Brandt says there are spots all over the province that are great contenders for family staycations this summer.
"There's so many little gems hidden around Manitoba," says Brandt, who documents some of his favourites on his Instagram page. "I would like to see people go in and experience them."
Representatives in Manitoba's tourism industry are calling on other people living in the province to take Brandt's advice this year, and spend their vacation days and travel budgets within the borders.
Worth about $1.6 billion annually, tourism in the province is taking a hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Colin Ferguson, the president and chief executive officer for Travel Manitoba.
"Best-case scenario, we're looking at probably a 30 per cent drop, and worst-case scenario probably twice that," he said in an interview with CBC Manitoba's Information Radio earlier this week.
Ferguson says areas that rely heavily on out-of-province travellers, like Churchill, are faring the worst.
In response to this significant drop in revenue, Travel Manitoba is shifting its advertising messaging to appeal to local, rather than international, tourists.
It's developed a campaign, Explore Manitoba From Home, to help people find inspiration, experiences and ways to support local communities during the pandemic.
"We've got amazing attractions we've got amazing things to see and do in our own province, and our summers are maybe the best anywhere in Canada," Ferguson said.
Over the last couple of weeks, the message coming from Manitoba public health officials has shifted from "stay home" to "stay safe."
It's highly unlikely international travel will be possible this summer, and interprovincial travel will be challenging as some parts of the country are harder hit than Manitoba, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said in a news conference Friday.
Currently, most people who travel outside Manitoba are required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return.
WATCH | Dr. Roussin on travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic:
For those travelling within Manitoba, Roussin encourages the ususal safety precautions — physical distancing and hand hygiene. He also recommends anyone going camping or to a cabin gas up close to home, and bring everything they need with them to minimize contact with others.
"Certainly do not travel if you are feeling unwell," he said.
People who are over 65 or are immunocompromised should stay home as much as possible for their own safety, he added.
Where to go
For those who can travel, Brandt says some of the most underrated spots in the province are in Manitoba's north.
Although travel above the 53rd parallel is restricted right now, it's fine for people who live in that region, like Brandt, to take in the sights and sounds.
This summer, in lieu of leaving the province or the country, he plans to explore parts of Manitoba's north that he's never seen before, including the yurts in Clearwater Lake Provincial Park, just outside of The Pas, where the lake is clear enough to see to the bottom, 11 metres down.
He also plans to hike between Pisew Falls and Kwasitchewan Falls near Thompson, which requires backwoods camping.
"That's definitely at the top of my list."
One of Brandt's favourite places to kayak is Bakers Narrows near Flin Flon.
"There's so many nice spots and tons of water. You can pretty much camp wherever you want," Brandt said.
He says he wants to try to return to Churchill, where he previously lived for four years, because it's one of his favourite spots to photograph the northern lights.
When he's visiting the south, Brandt enjoys visiting Gimli and Hecla, but also just driving through the Swan River Valley near Brandon to scope out old abandoned farm houses.
Winnipeg-based photographer April Carandang, also known as Peggrammer on Instagram, had a trip to Asia planned for this summer, which is now cancelled.
She normally loves to capture photos of different local festivals and outdoor concerts — also off the table this summer.
In spite of these disappointments, Carandang is excited to take day trips out of the city to visit some of Manitoba's provincial parks.
"We have really nice, beautiful provincial parks that are close to Winnipeg. It's just a matter of trying to find them and do a little bit of research," she said.
Carandang also hopes to visit the Sandilands Provincial Forest in southeastern Manitoba, to hike through the sand hills that were created after glaciers retreated and deposited rocks and huge amounts of sand.
"Imagine having that in the middle of Manitoba! I previously didn't even know about it," she said.
Spots to visit in Winnipeg
For those wanting to stay in the city, options are still more limited than they were pre-pandemic.
However, a few attractions are up and running, and Ferguson says he's heard of a number of others working to get their facilities in line with provincial guidelines.
Ferguson recommends taking in the new exhibits at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which just reopened to visitors this week.
He added that some trails will be reopened at Fort Whyte Alive on May 11.
Whether you're vacationing in a hammock in your backyard or taking a camping trip with your family, Brandt encourages everyone to get outside.
"I hope everyone can get off their phones and see all that Manitoba has to offer."
With files from Pat Kaniuga