New Brunswick

Quispamsis student braves COVID-19 in cross-Canada trek to tree planting job in B.C.

Jacob Delaquis, 21, of Quispamsis, packed up his car with food, disinfectant wipes, gloves and masks, and set out on the more than 5,000-kilometre journey to get to his tree planting job in B.C.

Jacob Delaquis, 21, surprised to find only 2 border 'check-ups'

Jacob Delaquis, 21, just before he left his mother's house in Quispamsis on April 29, is due to arrive in Smithers, B.C., Tuesday. (Submitted by Jacob Delaquis)

Driving across the country is a rite of passage for many New Brunswick university students, but it's not an option for most this summer with COVID-19 restrictions limiting travel between provinces.

Jacob Delaquis, 21, of Quispamsis, however, has a tree planting job waiting for him in 100 Mile House, B.C.

So he packed up his car last week with food, disinfectant wipes, gloves and masks, and set out on the more than 5,000-kilometre journey.

"I am taking every precaution necessary to ensure that I don't show up to camp sick," he said.

That includes making the fewest stops possible and avoiding busy urban centres.

Delaquis said he was surprised he's come across only two border "check-ups" — when crossing from New Brunswick into Quebec and from Ontario into Manitoba.

"You would figure that the two, you know, most infected provinces, Ontario and Quebec, there would be some sort of you know border check-up, but no, I went through Ontario with no check-ups or nothing, which I found very odd," he told Information Morning Saint John during a telephone interview Monday.

"Actually I'm a little shocked by that."

Although Delaquis described the New Brunswick-Quebec border as the strictest, officials did not make use of the testing station, he said.

They just asked him several questions, checked his contract and company letter, which states he is an essential worker and authorized to travel across borders, he said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has said he has no plans to loosen restrictions at border crossings like this one at the Quebec border into Campbellton. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Delaquis, a political science student at the University of Montreal, originally had a summer job lined up to be a parliamentary guide in Ottawa.

"But unfortunately, you know, that job got cancelled [due to COVID-19] because you need some foreign tourists and you need people to come and visit."

He had planted trees in New Brunswick last summer, so he considered doing that again, but he said the pay in B.C. is more than double.

"In New Brunswick, to give you an idea, I would be getting paid six cents a tree. I know that doesn't sound [like] a lot, but on average you plant about 2,500 a day. So if you do the math, it rounds up to a nice little pay.

"However in B.C., it's 14 cents a tree. … So I could make, you know, twice the amount of money I made last year."

Avoids restaurants, pays at pump

Delaquis said he loaded up his car with plenty of food for the drive — sandwiches his mother made, veggie trays, granola bars, chips and other snacks — so he could avoid restaurants as much as possible, and he restocked Sunday in Winnipeg, where his grandmother dropped off muffins, apples and bananas.

"So in terms of food, I really have only been stopping at Tim Hortons to pick up a coffee," which he wipes down with disinfectant wipes, he said.

When he stops for gas, he always wears gloves and a mask and usually just pays at the pump so he doesn't even have to go in.

"I really am spending the majority of my time on the highway."

And before he stops for the night, he calls ahead to hotels and motels to ask about their cleaning policies.

"You know, they all say they're doing extensive cleaning stuff, but for me, personally, I always wear gloves and a mask."

Keeping daily log 

In addition, Delaquis has to fill out a daily log for the forestry company, including where he has travelled, his temperature and any symptoms.

"It's a vigorous process. And it's very regulated," he said.

Another precaution the company is taking is separating the crews of 18 into carloads of four or five and keeping them isolated for the first two weeks, said Delaquis, who will be one of the drivers.

"I'll be only interacting with the people in my [truck] … and then while I'm driving everybody's going to be wearing masks and gloves, so it's going to be very weird," he said.

"They're doing that to ensure that, you know, all the tree planters are healthy. And, you know. if somebody does get sick, it's not like we're in one big camp and it'll infect everybody."

It's not for everybody, that's for sure.- Jacob Delaquis

Delaquis, who was about 180 kilometres east of Edmonton on Monday morning, was aiming to make it to Smithers by Tuesday to pick up a company truck.

He said he's looking forward to the season and prepared for the physical demands of the job by doing virtual yoga classes since gyms are closed due to COVID-19.

"After a long day, like you're doing the same motion constantly and it's not just like one body part it's … your entire body that is aching," he said.

"It's not for everybody, that's for sure," said Delaquis, describing it as "grueling work."

But it's more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge, he said.

"You have to have the right mindset, the right attitude, you know, to go in there and work. I mean, I'll be living in a tent for the next three months, essentially. But I'm content with that."

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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