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In a pandemic where international travel is off the menu, many Albertans are turning to this community for some outdoor grandeur

Mountains loom behind a busy street in Canmore, Alta., a community of 14,000 that has become a popular tourism destination for Albertans.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

On Saturday afternoon, there are two lineups on the packed sidewalk into Canmore’s downtown Bicycle Cafe. A server directs people into the correct line while balancing a latte in one hand. One line up is to place orders, while the other is to pick them up, she tells customers as she delivers the hot drink.

Inside, manager Chris Fast works his cappuccino machine, while choreographed staff slide in and out of position looking after guests, who are there to buy coffee and bikes (in short supply across the country), as well as greenery, including air plants, succulents, tropicals and aroids.

“We are having summer traffic right now,” said Mr. Fast in late March. “People want to get out and about. We saw a lot of domestic travellers last year and expect more this year.”

Manager Chris Fast serves drinks at the busy Bicycle Cafe.

Canmore has become one of Alberta’s most popular tourist destinations, thanks to its outdoor scene – including hiking and cross-country skiing – boutique hotels and restaurants.

Walking down the main drag right now can feel like navigating Toronto’s Queen West in the summertime. The sidewalk is slow, and the line up of cars trying to drive down the main street is slower.

“We are looking forward to the summertime, when they close off main street to cars, it makes it much easier for people to get around,” said artist Curtis Golomb.

Golomb shows his work at downtown Canmore’s Fallen Leaf Art Gallery, which his wife, Andrea Ritchie, owns. “We are hoping it will be busier than last summer,” said Golomb. If the Canada-U.S. border opens in time for the warmer months, that bodes well for business. “For us it’s going to depend on the Americans. They drop the money here.”

Still, Golomb and Ritchie remain optimistic about what’s in store for their gallery this coming year.

“We are blessed in Canmore, it’s a great town. And we are trying to make this a more personable space, people want that interaction,” he said. “Right now we are focused on making this a happy place, not only a safe space. Right now people need that.”

Curtis Golomb and Andrea Ritchie, middle, show customers art at Canmore's Fallen Leaf Art Gallery. In an ordinary year, American tourists are a big part of their business, but the Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since March of 2020.

A couple skis at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which was home to the cross-country ski events at the 1988 Winter Olympics. While outdoor activities are less restricted than indoor ones, provincial parks like this one still requires physical distancing for people from different households, and amenities like warming huts or picnic shelters are closed.

People walk past a window sign thanking front-line workers. Canmore is about an hour's drive from Calgary and is part of the same health zone, which, as of late March, had more COVID-19 cases recorded than any other zone in Alberta.

It's a Saturday, and the patio is busy at the Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon. Provincewide restrictions allow a maximum of six people per table, and tables must be at least two metres apart.

On this weekend in March, the Paintbox Lodge was sold out. Alberta's restrictions allow hotels and hunting lodges to operate under strict conditions for any dine-in restaurants or indoor fitness amenities.

A sign on a car's hood protests against the Kenney government's plans to abandon a policy that has protected the Rockies from coal mining since the 1970s. The pandemic, which drove down global demand for oil, has been an economic shock to Alberta's fossil-fuel industries.

Canmore's mountain vistas have made it a popular tourism spot for Albertans in the pandemic. 'Right now we are focused on making this a happy place, not only a safe space,' says Curtis Golomb, the artist. 'Right now people need that.'

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