Nfld. & Labrador

A long, long wait to go home: Stuck in Alberta, this Corner Brook man must wait until May

Steve Kenney's travel plans changed when Air Canada pulled its service to Deer Lake because of COVID-19.

A cancelled connection has meant a long delay for a homecoming

Steve Kenney is anxious to return home to Corner Brook from work in Alberta. After an extra five weeks out west, he will get to do so in May. (Submitted by Steve Kenney)

The hardest part is knowing he won't be able to hug wife, kids and his grandchild, but Steve Kenney knows being in their presence — instead of most of a country away — will be worth the trip home to Corner Brook.

Kenney, who drives a coach to and from a work camp north of Fort McMurray, Alta., found his plans to get home during the COVID-19 pandemic were thrown into disarray when Air Canada suspended air service to Deer Lake. 

"I'm pretty strong when it comes to that stuff," he told CBC News of his longing to get home. 

"Even though, emotionally, I can feel it right now. It hurts. But we're trapped."

Kenney works three weeks on, then returns home for two weeks. He's been working rotation in Alberta for more than 12 years. 

'Have to have the right mentality'

Kenney was scheduled to travel home April 1, but COVID-19 prompted Air Canada to suspend the Deer Lake connection, in addition to numerous other flights around Canada. 

Because of this, he and some coworkers decided to forgo a trip home for this rotation and wait five weeks to catch the next one. 

"When things like this come into play it can upset you quite easily, but, being out here, you have to have the right mentality," he said. "If you don't, you're going to get lost."

Kenney works out of the Horizon oilsands camp, about an hour's drive north of Fort McMurray, Alta. (Submitted by Steve Kenney)

The Horizon camp where Kenney works used to see between 2,000 and 3,000 workers on site daily.

Due to the pandemic, however, that number has been reduced drastically. Since he works in transportation, Kenney is considered an essential worker. He's comforted, though, in the extra precautions his employer, Canadian Natural Resources, is taking to ensure employees' safety.

Not an easy journey

Kenney is anticipating his return to the province, but he knows it won't be easy. When he arrives in St. John's, he will spend his first day driving across the island.

Then it's self-isolation upon arriving in Corner Brook.

It's the right move, he said.

I try to stay strong mentally. You have to. If not, it will crush you out here- Steve Kenney

"It's the freedom to move around, and know that you're in an environment where you are comfortable, and the comfort of sleeping in your own bed," he said. "Well, it won't be my bed because I will be downstairs when I go home.… It's just the comfort of your own home."

Kenney expects to spend most of his time at home in his garage, and to be able to talk to family through a window.

While Kenney is scheduled to fly into St. John's, he's booked on a flight back to Alberta through Deer Lake. Air Canada is scheduled to resume service there May 18, a day before Kenney needs to fly back.

He's hoping that schedule remains in place.

"I try to be optimistic," he said.

"In the back of my head I've probably already accepted the reality that it may not [or] won't happen. But I try to stay strong mentally. You have to. If not, it will crush you out here."

This is Kenney's workplace: a coach that takes workers to and from camp. (Submitted by Steve Kenney)

It's that optimism that's helping Kenney get by while at his work camp. He said the days he's working are long, and he misses everything at home, but he's not going to let it get to him.

"The hardest part is the mental aspect of it — sticking it out here and sitting in a room that's 8 1/2 by 11 [feet]."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Troy Turner


Troy Turner is a veteran journalist who has worked throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in both print and broadcast. Based in Corner Brook, he is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland Morning.