Restaurants, small business laud reopening of Ottawa-Gatineau border

Restaurateurs say they are ready to feed empty stomachs from both sides of the Ottawa River as non-essential travel between Ontario and Quebec is legal once again.

Non-essential travel across Ontario-Quebec, Ontario-Manitoba borders allowed again

Traffic across the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge, seen here on the first day of police checkpoints under Ontario's stay-at-home order, will be a little more active with the border reopening to non-essential travel. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Whether you have a full wallet or an empty stomach, there is now a larger menu of options from both sides of the Ottawa River.

The interprovincial border between Ontario and Quebec reopened to non-essential travel at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, five days after Ontario entered the first phase of the province's reopening.

The news has delighted business owners including Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle, who owns Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield, Que.

"I'm going to cry because I'm so excited. It has not been fun having to turn people away," said Riel-Lachapelle. "Fifty per cent of my customers are from Ontario, if not more. It's been challenging."

Both governments agreed to drop restrictions that had allowed only essential travel between the two provinces since April 19. Police had intermittently staffed checkpoints, issuing tickets or turning around motorists who didn't have essential work, medical or humanitarian reasons to cross the border. 

Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle of Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield, Que., says she is excited she will no longer have to turn away patrons from Ontario. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

"People were doing it anyway," admitted Harriet Clunie, who owns Das Lokal restaurant in Ottawa, which is mere blocks from two separate interprovincial bridges.

"A lot of our clients are from Quebec because a large portion of our clientele works at Global Affairs, and a lot of them live in the Quebec side. So we'll be really excited to be welcoming those clients back."

Clunie also plans to cross the bridge herself with her new puppy.

"I'm super excited to take her on some of the dog-friendly trails. There are some lovely ones in Ontario, but there's something very special in my heart from when I was a kid about being in the Gatineaus," she said. 
Harriet Clunie of Das Lokal in Ottawa looks forward to seeing her Outaouais clientele again, while being able to walk her puppy Peggy on dog-friendly trails in the Gatineau, Que. (Supplied by Harriet Clunie)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has already publicly supported the border reopening. Caryl Green, mayor of Chelsea, Que., says small businesses in her municipality are ready to welcome a boon from Ontario visitors they have missed.

"Although local residents have been really faithful and supported our local businesses, I don't think it's sustainable in the long term," said Green in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Green, who describes the Outaouais as the third busiest point of entry for tourism into Quebec, has closely followed the COVID-19 situation in Ontario.

She admits some Quebec mayors remain concerned about the influx of Ontario residents.

"We'll need to have visitors, as well as local residents, to help our businesses get back on their feet," said Green, who also looks forward to seeing family in Ottawa and Kingston, Ont.

"We're cautiously optimistic, but we can't stop having our physical distancing and wearing masks for the time being,"

The Outaouais reported 12 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while Ottawa reported 10.

Some municipalities have reported zero cases for a week, according to Green, who meets regularly with health authorities. 

"The numbers are down, hospitalization is down, and the number of deaths has decreased as well," she said.

Caryl Green, mayor of Chelsea, Que., says she remains "cautiously optimistic" about the reopening of the Quebec-Ontario border. (Francis Olmstead/Radio-Canada)

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning


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