Paul Funston and Mary Lou Baldwin pose for a photo with their trailer in Fort Langley, B.C., Friday, December 18, 2020. The duo would normally spend the winter south of the border, but with the Canada-U.S border closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are spending it at a campground in southern B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

Paul Funston and Mary Lou Baldwin pose for a photo with their trailer in Fort Langley, B.C., Friday, December 18, 2020. The duo would normally spend the winter south of the border, but with the Canada-U.S border closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are spending it at a campground in southern B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

Senior snowbirds congregate in B.C. when wings clipped by COVID-19 border closures

Thousands of those snowbirds have converged on southern B.C.

On a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is a campsite packed with Canadian snowbirds who found refuge when the border with the United States was shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other years, all 118 full-service sites at Fort Camping in Langley are occupied, said Marilyn Stone, the manager of guest services at the campsite.

It started in March, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians around the world to come home, Stone said.

Travellers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. came to quarantine and before they left for the summer, they booked for the winter, she said.

The Canadian Camping and RV Council said at least 50,000 full-time users of recreational vehicles who usually spend their winters in the United States had to find a site north of the border.

Thousands of those snowbirds have converged on southern B.C., packing full-service campgrounds to wait out the winter, say tourism and lodging groups in the province.

Mary Lou Baldwin and her partner Paul Funston normally head home from Arizona to an RV site in Grimsby, Ont., but it was closed.

Instead, she “begged” Fort Camping to allow them to come in to quarantine this spring, said Baldwin, 79.

She took no chances on the border reopening and booked Fort Camping for the winter.

“I sensed that we were going to be in deep trouble come this winter because everybody, they can’t go south and they’re going to come here. They’ll want to get into B.C.”

Funston, 78, said the relentless rain in Metro Vancouver in November and parts of December has made it easy to quarantine in their trailer, but they wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

“There is no place in Canada from the East Coast all the way to this area that doesn’t have winter. So, there’s no escape until you come here,” he said in a telephone interview.

Doug Overholt, 74, would normally be in Palm Springs, Calif., this time of year, and said he considered getting on a plane to head south while having his 12-metre motorhome trucked across the border. But he had health insurance considerations and instead decided to sit out the winter at Fort Camping.

“I’ve got satellite TV and radio and whatever I need there. They have wonderful internet service here.”

Joss Penny, the executive director of the B.C. Lodging and Campgrounds Association, said about 100 private-sector campgrounds are open year-round, most of them in southern B.C.

He said the snowbirds in campsites are treated just like any other family would be if they were living in separate condominiums.

“We don’t have the clubhouse open, we don’t have the washrooms open, they’re in their own self-contained RV and home. They aren’t supposed to mix and mingle with other people in the park.”

The Gallagher Lake Camping & RV Resort, near Oliver, usually has just a few winter visitors, but manager Jamie Cox said the phone started ringing endlessly one day in March. They set up a quarantine location, arranged a grocery system and overnight, all 80 of their sites were full, he said.

“We were literally in a necessity position and went to the provincial government to get an essential service designation,” said Cox, who’s also the chairman of the B.C. Lodging and Campgrounds Association.

He said many of those spring campers returned for the winter.

Rob Littlejohn, part owner of Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, said by mid-July, there were 100 people on their winter wait-list.

“They’re from everywhere in the country that’s cold,” he said.

Full-time motorhome residents have been wintering on Vancouver Island for decades, said Anthony Everett, the president of Tourism Vancouver Island. The difference this year is snowbirds had nowhere else to go.

“We realized that we had a situation on our hands,” Everett said. “Our motivation was to make sure that snowbirds understood all the places they could go on the Island. They also needed to understand there were places on the Island that weren’t actually ready to have people come back to see them.”

With tourism down by 60 per cent, Everett said the snowbird migration is one bright spot in what has been a horrible year for their businesses.

At Fort Camping, Connie Axelsen and her partner are planning a quiet holiday season when they would normally be celebrating with the group of friends they have made in Arizona.

“I look at the positives, you know it could be a lot worse. We’ve got a nice warm home, we’ve got nice neighbours, we’re in a beautiful area. Would I like to be down south, oh you bet. But until they lift the restrictions and the vaccines are out, we’re staying put.”

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

On Monday, Feb. 22, Island Health listed Glacier View Secondary on 241 Beacher Drive in Courtenay as having a COVID-19 exposure Feb. 17 and 18. Black Press file photo
Red Deer sets new COVID-19 case record

There are now 565 active cases in Red Deer

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Most Read