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

The Art Infiniti Hotel caught fire on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31, 2020) in Maple Ridge. Seven people were evacuated safely. (Barry Brinkman/Special to The News)
LETTER: Headline about Maple Ridge fire victim insensitive

Senior lost everything in Dec. 31 fire and letter writer felt denture reference inappropriate

Maple Ridge released its winter program guide recently. (Special to The News)
City unveils numerous winter programs and activities

Maple Ridge unveils guide that takes into consideration COVID-19

Corina Ardelean, right, and a volunteer wait for clients at Christian Life Assembly in Maple Ridge. (Special to The News)
Romanian refugees fulfill mission in Maple Ridge

Helping struggling families put food on the table

Maple Ridge’s Bruce Coughlan. (Special to The News)
Robbie Burns day to be feted virtually by Maple Ridge musician

Bruce Coughlan will hold virtual concert in Campbell River theatre in honour of Scottish bard

Naturally Splendid employees working at a flow wrapper station at its facility in Pitt Meadows (Special to The News)
Plant-based Pitt Meadows business pivots during pandemic

Naturally Splendid partners with Australian company on bringing meat substitute to Canada

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Pindie Dhaliwal, one of the organizers for the Surrey Challo protest for Indian farmers. She says organizers were told by Surrey RCMP that the event was not allowed due to COVID-19. Organizers ended up moving the protest to Strawberry Hill at the last minute. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Indian farmers rally moves as organizers say Surrey RCMP told them they couldn’t gather

Protest originally planned in Cloverdale, moved to Strawberry Hill

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

Most Read