New Brunswick

N.B. border closure leaves Ontario couple stranded in van for almost 2 months

An Ontario couple looking to retire in New Brunswick say they haven't been able to get clear answers from government about whether they can come into the province.

Before the pandemic hit, John and Lorraine Oakes planned to retire and move to New Brunswick in May

An Ontario couple has called this van home for almost two months, while they wait to see if they can enter New Brunswick, where they plan to spend retirement. (John Oakes/Submitted)

John Oakes and his wife Lorraine have been living inside their 20-year-old Dodge conversion van for almost two months. 

The Ontario couple decided to retire and move to New Brunswick after a two-week vacation three years ago.

So they sold their 3,200-square-foot home in February, chose May 1 as their closing date, and booked a campground spot in Florenceville for May 15, so they could look for a house.

They planned to live in the Woodstock area because of their love for the country and living near water.

Then COVID-19 hit.

"I had nowhere to go," said the 65-year-old.

They've been living inside the 19-foot van on their nephew's 48-acre property, with their cat Snoopy and Australian shephard Gizzy.

The property was previously bought by John's parents in 1969.

John Oakes said he had big plans to retire and live in New Brunswick. But he never expected living in a van to be part of the move. (John Oakes/Submitted)

The property is near Orillia, where they're both from, almost 150 kilometres north of Toronto.

"Other than that I would've been living in a driveway somewhere," said Oakes, the former manager of a motor sport business nearby.

The New Brunswick government has closed its borders to non-essential visitors to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Provincial enforcement officers have set up screening checkpoints to question people coming into the province.

A van is 'not meant for living' 

Oakes said they have everything they need, including bottled water, a generator and a trailer to hold their personal belongings. But it's a tight space for the couple, who has been married for 46 years this coming July.

They have dishes for their pets under their bed. And have purple drapes set up to prevent the sun from getting into their home. But they argue over issues such as toothbrushes getting in the way or doors being left open. 

"We are arguing a lot more now than we have been in 45 years, which isn't good or healthy," he said from a lawn chair in the middle of the field. 

Lorraine Oakes sits in the couple's bedroom, which could also be considered their kitchen, which sits right next to their washroom. (John Oakes/Submitted)

Oakes gets claustrophobic at night when he's sleeping inside the van, and hyperventilates if a window isn't open.

On Thursday, he was also rushed to the hospital by ambulance after he blacked out for about 45 seconds and stopped breathing. He attributes this to stress and anxiety of not knowing where they're going to live.

"It's a van, it's not meant for living in."

Couple doesn't get a clear answer from government 

But he said the most frustrating part is not being able to receive a clear answer from the New Brunswick government about whether they can come into the province.

"When I can't get answers to questions, it's frustrating," he said. 

"Everybody gave me a different answer .... nobody knew."

Oakes said he received an email from Service New Brunswick on Thursday, saying the couple could enter the province as long as they could prove they were not coming for vacation. 

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs expects to see a travel bubble among the Atlantic provinces by early July. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

At a Friday news briefing, Premier Blaine Higgs said anyone moving to New Brunswick from outside the province can come and self-isolate for 14 days.

"We certainly want to find a way to accommodate that and we want to encourage people to come and live here," Higgs said. 

However, if someone wants to come and look at houses to live in, they will have to do so virtually, Higgs said. 

"It is problematic."

Atlantic bubble planned for 1st week of July 

Higgs said New Brunswick could open its borders to the rest of Atlantic Canada as early as the beginning of July.

Depending on the number of COVID-19 cases, New Brunswick could open its borders to the rest of Canada by mid-July.

But Oakes and his wife can't wait that long.

He plans to head to Woodstock and self-isolate in a hotel room with his wife on July 1.

There, they will look at potential houses online with an agent, until their two-week self-isolation period is over

"We've got to get out of here."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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