A little more than a month ago, I commented briefly in one of my articles about seasonal residents coming to Muskoka during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nutshell, I said that seasonal residents are not the enemy, that they contribute significantly to Muskoka, that under the proper conditions they have the right to be here, that permanent residents should treat them with understanding and respect and that, in turn, seasonal residents should exercise caution and common sense given the abnormal and difficult circumstances we presently encounter.
Recently, I have been asked by a number of people if, after six weeks of COVID-19 restrictions, I have changed my opinion. To a large extent I have not, but I have been watching and listening and have experienced many of the changes that have affected most of our lives. As a result, and especially as we face our first long weekend of the summer season, a few things come to mind.
First, it is important to recognize that there is a real difference between tourists and seasonal residents. Tourism is a large part of the economy for Huntsville and the rest of Muskoka. It is hard to ask tourists to stay away and doing so has serious consequences for many who live, work or have businesses or tourist operations here. But the time is not yet right for them to come.
In many ways, tourists are transients. They come, they play, they enjoy what Muskoka has to offer and they leave. COVID-19 has made this difficult, restrictive, and potentially dangerous. While Ontario has had some success in limiting the spread of COVID-19, it is too early to return to normal activity. While I understand that cabin fever is a reality for many these days, people who want to come here simply for a few days of rest, relaxation and diversity should really stay away for now and, hopefully, for not too long a time.
Seasonal residents, or cottagers, are different. They have an investment in Muskoka and a stake in its future and I do believe, under the proper conditions, they have a right to be here. One may well ask, what are those conditions?
Well first, unnecessary travelling can spread the coronavirus and so frequent commuting between home and cottage right now is a really bad idea. I know that many seasonal residents are itching to be here for the Victoria Day long weekend. But if they can only be here for a few days, for their own safety and the safety of others they should really think twice about that, and if they do come, they need to self-isolate.
However, especially with the summer season upon us and with some restrictions easing, we cannot expect seasonal residents to stay permanently away for the foreseeable future. In my view, when they come they should stay for an extended period of time. They should not commute and, like the rest of us, they should self-isolate when they first get here, respect physical distancing, and follow all other COVID-19 restrictions.
Seasonal residents are an important part of our community. They are not second-class citizens and should not be made to feel unwelcome here. In addition, having cottagers here this summer season, following the same rules and putting safety first, as we all must, will provide a measure of much-needed relief to local businesses, many of whom are struggling to stay alive. Having seasonal residents staying here will be healthier for them, should not be unhealthy for us, and will be helpful to our economy. Thanks to measures that have been put in place, hospital facilities are not currently stressed and food supplies remain stable.
As one seasonal resident put it to me, “My own feeling as a cottager is that I must respect the needs of permanent residents, and at this time that means not putting them at additional risk and not making their life more difficult. I think I can do that and still enjoy Lake (name deleted).” I agree with that.
Confucius has gotten his wish. We live in interesting times. But it is in these times that we should look to be strengthened in character, not weakened; to put safety first but to show compassion and respect to others and to be cautious, but realistic in understanding that life must go on.
I note that one health unit in another part of Ontario has ordered people to stay away from their cottages and that some activists have advocated that Hwy 11 be closed to all but essential travel over the long weekend. I do find this disturbing; it does feel like a police state. Perhaps it is necessary, and my guess is that it will happen here to some degree.
But the greatest service we can offer during this pandemic, one that will mitigate the need for authoritarian measures, is to use common sense, exercise caution, and follow reasonable rules.
For seasonal residents, that may mean that you don’t come to Muskoka for only a weekend. For those of us who live here year- round, it means we should be courteous and respect the right of seasonal residents who follow the rules that we all must follow to spend extended time here.
Surely that is what Muskoka and the people who love it are all about.
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