Camps face second season with the possibility of no tourists

While many residents in northwestern Ontario look forward to the summer, anxious to get on their boats and fish, all tourist camp owners have their fingers crossed, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s occupancy numbers.

Although vaccinations continue to rapidly roll out in the United States, where most of our local tourists come from, it is not the case in Canada with Ontario being in the second phase of vaccinating those aged 60 years or more.

Tom Pearson, owner and manager of Camp Narrows Lodge, said his last guests checked out on Oct. 12, 2019. He has not been able to take reservations since then.

Being a seasonal businesses, the lodge is open from May to November. In a normal season, Camp Narrows would be at full capacity, seeing about 700 guests in total. Because all of Pearson’s clientele are American, the lodge went from 700 guests per season to zero in 2020.

Pearson said it is a tough undertaking getting Canadians to consider a staycation, even with a 50 per cent discount on normal prices.

“Everybody has a cabin here,” Pearson said. “I’m advertising all over the area. Lots of shares on [Facebook], but no bookings. They live here so they’re not going to pay. An American from Chicago will pay a lot to come and fish. I’m only 20 miles north of town from the causeway. Anybody from Fort Frances could just jump in a boat and go fish anywhere, they can be there in 20 minutes by boat. They don’t need to go stay in my cabins.”

While Pearson does not expect the border to be open in May, he said with the current vaccination rates in Canada and the United States, the federal government should consider opening the border in June or July.

“We’re going to have most of the people vaccinated. Every one of my guests are vaccinated,” Pearson said. “Why can’t they come over the border, not stop anywhere and go straight to my cabin then go home?”

Pearson said all of his clients that had reservations for 2020 got pushed back to 2021, which is why Pearson will be getting Camp Narrows ready in hopes that the border opens soon.

“It costs so much to set up, but I can’t leave it again for another year,” Pearson said. “I got to go do stuff, I got to spend money, and I’ll just be spending my own money. The government doesn’t want to help out and thank God I’ve had [Camp Narrows] for 37 years. I’d hate to be one of these new people that just bought camps and have these big mortgages. It’s just ridiculous.”

Camp Narrows offers Americans full plans with meals, boats, motors and guide services. Price per person per week could cost anywhere from US $800 to US $3,000 all inclusive.

Pearson said his business received the $40,000 business loan last year, $10,000 of which he gets to keep if he pays $30,000 this year. However, Pearson said this one-time loan does not help with what he lost as a result of COVID-19.

“They say help is there. But we don’t know that yet,” Pearson said. “The biggest lie I’ve heard is that we’re all in this together. It’s the biggest lie of the year. Nobody’s in it together. It’s not a big shared thing.”

Going forward, Pearson said vaccinated people should be added to the essential list of travellers.

“They got workers from all over Canada working here tearing down the mill. Don’t tell me that they can’t bring COVID into town. If an American comes straight up, doesn’t stop anywhere and goes to my cabins, there’s no difference than the guys that are here, tearing down the mill,” Pearson said. “They’re going back to the cities and then coming back here to work, and then sitting in the Rendezvous or sitting in a bar in town.”