Gatineau prepares for Ontario influx as malls, hair salons open Monday

Monday marks the next phase of Quebec's plan to reopen its economy, and some Gatineau businesses are expecting more than a few Ontario licence plates in their parking lots.

'We expect a lot of Ontario plates in the parking lot' says mall manager

Maude Elysa, owner of Coiffure Moda Elysa in Gatineau, Que., says her phone's been ringing incessantly since the Quebec government first announced beauty salons like hers will be able to open June 1. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ringing off the hook.

That's how Maude Elysa describes the business phone at Coiffure Moda Elysa in Gatineau, Que., ever since the Quebec government announced beauty salons would be included in the latest round of businesses to reopen Monday.

June 1 marks the next phase of Quebec's plan to reopen its economy, with the green light now given to private health-care services like dentists, physiotherapists and massage therapists, as well as personal-care services like hairdressers and barbers that operate outside the greater Montreal area and the Joliette, Que., region.

"I basically found out that we were reopening from our customers," said Elysa, who's been returning calls some nights until as late as 9 o'clock.

I feel like Santa Claus.- Maude Elysa, owner of Moda Elysa

"I feel like Santa Claus," she said, "They're like, 'Yay!' when I call back. They're so happy to talk to me." 

Others, she added, sound a bit desperate. 

"We are not essential, but we seem to be essential to some people's well-being," she said.

Guy Leblanc, the manager of Galeries Aylmer in Gatineau, Que., says he's looking forward to seeing customers fill the mall again for the first time since it shut down in March. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

'Ontario plates in the parking lot'

Moda Elysa is located in Galeries Aylmer, a shopping mall in the Aylmer district that's also allowed to reopen Monday.

Earlier this week the province also earmarked June 1 for the opening of marinas, accommodations like Airbnb rentals and campgrounds outside Montreal. 

The plan, however, is out of sync with Ontario's more conservative timeline, which has some Gatineau business owners anticipating Ottawa residents will find the trip across the river irresistible. 

"Definitely we're going to have Ontario plates in the parking lot next week," said Guy Leblanc, the manager of Galeries Aylmer. "So we're getting ready." 

The trip to the mall, however, will be a bit different from before the pandemic, with no comfy benches or children's rides. Nor will there be tables and chairs at the food court, said Leblanc, but there will be lots of hand sanitizer stations "so people feel secure when they're inside."

André Fortin, the Liberal MNA for Pontiac, says it would have made sense for the Ontario and Quebec governments to have talked more about lining up their reopening plans, since eastern Ontario and western Quebec are so closely linked. (CBC)

Reopening plan 'not perfect'

The mall office of Pontiac MNA André Fortin is expected to reopen Monday as well, something he said he's looking forward to. 

While residents are anxious for signs the world is returning to normal, Fortin said having the Outaouais out of sync with eastern Ontario could present challenges, since the regions are so closely linked.

Fortin said it would have made sense to have had "more discussion" between governments on both sides of the river.

"It's not perfect. It's going to lead to some issues of, maybe, people travelling back and forth more than they usually would. And that's something that we should be trying to avoid," he said.

"From a public health standpoint, it does raise some questions."

Workers put up a shield to protect workers at a cafe at Galeries Aylmer. The shields are part of the guidelines that will allow Quebec malls to reopen June 1. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

In March, public health concern over traffic from Ottawa — which has had many more COVID-19 cases — led to checkpoints where Gatineau police stopped all but essential travellers from entering. 

Those checkpoints were lifted earlier this month

As of last week, the MRC de Pontiac didn't have a single active case of COVID-19. Fortin said he's hearing from constituents who have a mix of both excitement that things are reopening, and apprehension that the province may be moving too fast. 

Elysa said that's how she's feeling: she's excited to see her customers again, but would be devastated if a beauty salon customer fell ill. 

Hair stylist Sheryl Eade tries on the new face shield she will wear beginning Monday when her salon reopens in Quebec. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Masks, face shields and apprehension

"Personally I would have preferred if hair salons waited a bit longer, because [of] all the measures we have to take and the fact that we're incredibly close to the customers," she said.

She said those "extreme measures" may make an appointment with the hair dresser may a bit like a visit to an alien planet. 

"We have to wear masks, we have to wear face shields. How is it going to be cutting hair with face shields?" 

Elysa said her salon is implementing a mandatory mask policy for customers as well. 


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