This time last year, thousands of Canadian snowbirds were packing their bags to head south. But this year, COVID-19 has clipped the wings of many. And for some, other issues are keeping them grounded as well.
After almost a decade of fun in the sun, Temiskaming’s Peter Learn and his partner sold their home in Florida this year.
“We had been going down to Zephyrhills, Fla., seasonally from the end of October until sort of the end of April. We’d finally gotten it to the stage where we were really happy with it and we’d made a lot of really great friends in our park as well,” he said.
But once the pandemic hit, Learn says “it just felt like it wasn’t being taken very seriously. And it was really hard to find places to social distance and feel safe away from people with with no masks on.”
Up North8:44Snowbirds clipping their wings
They also experienced a lot more anti-Canadian sentiment.
“Unfortunately, last year, I had a car accident and my wife had some medical issues down there. And we just found that there was a lot more negativity in the town that we were in, which was surprising, but unfortunate,” he said.
Learn says they heard negative comments about snowbirds, and his car was keyed at the local YMCA.
“Just a lot of comments about trade, how Canadians had been taking advantage of the U.S. for years. And I think it came from from political statements in the news.”
The negativity surprised them.
“We hadn’t really experienced it all that much in previous years,” Learn added.
“You always get a bit of that when you’re in a holiday community. You know, prices go up and people feel a little frustrated who live there year round. But we hadn’t really experienced it to the degree that we had last year, for sure.”
With the U.S. presidential election looming, Learn says they became increasingly uneasy.
“We were concerned about what may happen with the election, following what’s been going on in Michigan, some of the division, even between communities, where we knew people,” he said.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the election. And we just felt it was a little bit unstable and not the best time to be down there.”
However, Learn says he knows of other Canadians who will continue their snowbird lifestyle, regardless of the situation.
Self-isolating ‘where the weather’s warm’
The executive director of a not-for-profit advocacy group representing some 115,000 Canadian snowbirds agrees there’s a lot of tension politically.
“But I think a lot of people are … hopeful that a lot of that’s going to calm down,” the Canadian Snowbird Association’s Michael MacKenzie says.
“So I have not detected any panic from from snowbirds at this point. I think they’re definitely concerned, and COVID-19 is their biggest concern. And … that’s probably a reason why most of them would be nervous about traveling right now.”
Canadians are accustomed to COVID-19 interventions from government, such as protocols around masking, hand washing and social distancing, but some states don’t have those same mechanisms in place. And that’s troubling to many snowbirds, MacKenzie says. But many of them reason that if they can self-isolate in places like Toronto or Montreal, they can self isolate in Orlando.
“They have a property. The positive side for them is that if they do go to Florida or Arizona, a lot of them are are of the mindset that they’ll have a backyard that they can sit out in, or they can go for a walk around the block during the winter — which is a lot trickier to do when you’re in Canada,” he said.
“So, yes, they are concerned, most definitely. But I think the lifestyle they lead while they’re down there, I think would probably be very similar to the lifestyle that they would lead in Canada. They know well enough to to mask and to avoid the crowds and self isolate. And a lot of them, frankly, would rather do that somewhere where the weather’s warm.”
The association MacKenzie represents tries to keep people up-to-date and “give them all the information they need so that they can make an informed decision.”
As for people who are on the fence about traveling, particularly to the U.S. this year, Mackenzie says it’s important to keep focused on the latest developments.
“There’s changes on this, seemingly on a daily basis. If you’re going down there, you’ve really got to be aware of what the rules are in your state, what the rules are in your county,” he said.
“You should probably rent a place first. But right now, health and safety is number one, as far as we’re concerned. So keep an eye on those things and we’re there to help people navigate through those waters.”