New Brunswick

Canadian and U.S. owners of New Brunswick seasonal homes facing lost summer

Wayne Perry lives in Toronto but was born and raised in New Brunswick. He normally spends every spring and summer at his house in Long Reach along the St. John River. 

'Non-essential' visits to N.B. by non-residents forbidden, including hundreds who own camps, cottages

Wayne Perry is shown on the banks of the St. John River at Long Reach where he bought a summer house in 2011. He hopes to be there this summer. (Submitted)

Wayne Perry lives in Toronto but was born and raised in New Brunswick. He normally spends spring and summer at his house in Long Reach along the St. John River. 

But not this spring.  

Despite a lifetime connection to New Brunswick, the 78-year-old Perry is banned from entering the province as a non-resident under tight border restrictions established to stop the potential importation of the COVID-19 virus into New Brunswick by infected visitors. 

Perry understands the reasons for the ban, but its underlying message — that he's an outsider in his birth province with no more status to enter than a random tourist — has been difficult to hear.

"Under the circumstances it [the ban] is a logical decision. I can't argue with that. I think I would do the same. But I'm upset. It's home," said Perry of the Kings County property he bought in 2011, at the end of a professional life spent away.

"It is painful to be here [in Toronto] right now but I don't know what to do. If there was a way of getting down there I'd get packed up tomorrow and drive down."

Wayne Perry has a lifelong connection to the St. John River. He grew up within sight of the Reversing Falls in the north end of Saint John. (Submitted)

Perry was born in Saint John in 1942. He grew up in the north end of the city, graduated from Saint John High School and earned a degree from the University of New Brunswick in 1965.  

Those ties remain strong. He was on the organizing committee for his 60th high school reunion this summer, until it was cancelled because of the pandemic.  

His parents and grandparents are buried in New Brunswick and he pays substantial taxes on his Long Reach home, which this year the province raised nearly four per cent to $9,993.  

He doesn't begrudge the amount, or the fact the province still intends to collect on it while forbidding him from living there.

"When I first bought the house I thought, well, you know, there's a price I'll have to pay to be there and, yeah, I'll pay it."

Wayne Perry is shown with his mother at UNB graduation ceremonies in 1965. Perry ended up forging a career in Toronto, the only place he and his former wife could both find jobs in 1972. (Submitted)

Perry considers himself to be similar to New Brunswick residents who winter in Florida and were welcomed back into the province in March and April on the condition they self-isolate for 14 days. He said the only difference is he winters in Toronto.

But he doesn't have a New Brunswick licence or medicare card, the standard by which the province judges citizenship, and he has been told by Service New Brunswick that without those credentials he is a visitor, and visitors are not welcome in the province at the moment.

"It doesn't make any difference," said Perry of his deep personal connections to New Brunswick. "I'm considered as a cottager and a non-resident."

Wayne Perry, left, was part of New Brunswick's celebration of Canada's Centennial in 1967, water skiing through the Reversing Falls during slack tide. (Submitted)

New Brunswick has a long history with summer residents like Perry. 

The province has thousands of kilometres of lake, river and ocean frontage and for generations Canadians, Americans and Europeans have sought it out as an idyllic waterside summer retreat.

A number of New Brunswick's most famous buildings are former summer homes, including Franklin Roosevelt's Campobello cottage, William Van Horne's estate on Minister's Island and Lady Beaverbrook's house, Dayspring, in St. Andrews. 

In some New Brunswick summer communities, like ​​​​​​Pointe-du-Chêne next to Parlee Beach, nearly half of the vacation properties on some streets belong to out-of-province owners. 

But it's a relationship being tested by the province's aggressive response to the pandemic.

Over half the summer homes on this section of First Avenue in Pointe-du-Chêne belong to out-of-province residents. (Google Earth)

Last week, Premier Blaine Higgs said there will be no exceptions to New Brunswick's ban on visitors from outside the province, even if they are originally from New Brunswick and own residences where they can quarantine upon arrival.

"I recognize the value of having property owners here that are spending money in New Brunswick and enjoying what we enjoy every day here by living here," Higgs said last week about people like Perry.

"But at this point in time it's too early to open the borders up especially … in a situation that we see with what they're currently dealing with in Ontario or Quebec." 

That's not what Richard Lawlor was hoping to hear.  

Born and raised in Saint John, Lawlor has spent three decades as an engineer in Hamilton, Ont., but never forgetting his origins in New Brunswick.

He and his wife Yvonne vacationed frequently in the province and in 2012 made that practice permanent, buying a summer home not far from Wayne Perry's house in Long Reach.

"Incredible sunsets. The weather is warm. The people are warm and friendly and its quiet. I'm a sailor and it's a lovely area to sail," said Lawlor, who was stunned to learn the province is now closed to families like his.

Summer sunset at Long Reach on the St. John River. (Submitted)

"It's hard to swallow, to not feel welcome," he said.

Lawlor agrees with the objective of keeping the virus out of New Brunswick, but as an engineer he believes there have to be more solutions available than a blanket ban that applies to everyone no matter what their health status or connections to New Brunswick might be.

He said he and his wife would take any test and abide by any rule to be allowed to stay at their summer house. They usually travel there at this time of year.

"There's no one solution that's good for everyone. I think there are [different] circumstances and cases," said Lawlor.

"My wife's a former public health nurse. She did contact tracing for 20 years. We wear masks. We know we have to self-quarantine. We're on it. We know the concern and we respect the concern."

Richard Lawlor and his wife, Yvonne, at their summer home on the St. John River. 'It's hard to swallow, not being welcome,' he said. (Submitted)

There have been suggestions from the Canadian Constitution Foundation that New Brunswick's ban on Canadians coming to the province may be unconstitutional, but that issue, if courts ever do address it, will likely take years to resolve. 

Higgs said last week it might be possible for public health officials to develop a specific plan to accommodate the arrival of out-of-province residents who own property in New Brunswick although none has been proposed as yet.

"So I'm not ruling that out at all," he said 

Lawlor and Perry are both in favour of any resolution that will reopen the province to people like them, particularly those born in New Brunswick in the first place.

"It's my home, really," said Perry.

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