Premier John Horgan announced British Columbia’s latest step toward emerging from pandemic restrictions on Monday morning. Within 45 minutes, the BC Ferries online booking system crashed, as B.C. residents responded enthusiastically to the end of regional travel limits.
The travel restrictions were just one of the measures eased this week. Movie theatres reopened for the first time since November. Alcohol can now be served in bars and restaurants until midnight. Playhouses and banquet halls reopened for gatherings of up to 50 people. Playdates are a thing again. A postpandemic society is now appearing on the horizon.
At the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort in Ucluelet, front-desk staff have been inundated with new booking requests. Since March of 2020, when the province declared a state of emergency, hospitality and tourism businesses have been buffeted by ever-changing rules. This April, the resort had to cancel reservations for anyone who didn’t live on Vancouver Island.
“We are seeing a lot more reservations. We’re struggling to keep up with the volume, to be honest,” said the resort’s general manager, Adele Larkin. “And we’re really excited about that.”
But after more than a year of turbulence and uncertainty, Ms. Larkin hopes guests will understand that things won’t be back to normal right away. “Even something as subtle as the adjustment in hours for liquor sales and lounge operations – I mean, that’s great, but we don’t necessarily have all the staff in order to open it up that wide. And so for us, although the province has said ‘go for it,’ we aren’t in a position that we can make that happen yet.”
Her biggest recruitment challenge is in the culinary department. Black Rock promises an “artisan-inspired culinary experience” but the restaurant kitchen is now running with just 20 per cent of its normal crew.
And it’s not just Black Rock, Ms. Larkin noted: Many businesses in Ucluelet and its sister resort community, Tofino, will be welcoming back visitors with skeleton crews.
“It is unpleasant. We’re doing everything we can to try and support that team. We are trying to hire some more resources. But yeah, it’s not an ideal situation,” Ms. Larkin said.
- Justine Hunter
It’s hard to believe that watching a bunch of seven-year-olds playing hockey could make me cry. On Tuesday, my son Neil’s hockey team was allowed to scrimmage for the first time after the rule barring kids from playing sports was lifted across B.C.
I’m not sure what I was feeling. Relief? Hope? Deliverance? Grief? In the car a day earlier, Neil told me he could no longer remember what life was like “before corona.” He was 6 when this started. Next month, he turns 8.
For the past 10 months, Neil’s team has done nothing but practise. Scrimmaging was out – there’s no way to distance physically when you’re all chasing the same puck. So were all the best games: tag, duck-duck-goose, ice potato. Instead, they spent 10 months skating in circles, practising stickhandling and skating backwards.
It wasn’t a lot of fun. The kids only ever moved at half speed. Their expressions were hidden by tiny masks adorned with rainbows and whales, but their eyes often appeared glazed over. They looked like tiny adults, going through the motions. If languishing was the dominant emotion of the past year, it was no different for kids. I hardly ever saw them laugh.
Maybe that’s why seeing all 20 boys and girls suddenly flying across the ice Tuesday night in Richmond stirred such strong emotions. With every goal, they screamed with joy, flinging pint-sized sticks into the air. That there was no goalie in the net didn’t matter. One boy who had shown zero skill or passion for the game all year rushed 75 feet. Then he did it again. It was as though they were playing a different sport.
They came pouring off the ice excited, red faced, full of life, reliving a hard-fought game that ended 14 to 13. The country’s soul feeds on hockey. Maybe that’s what felt so good. Seeing kids playing our own beautiful game felt like coming home again.
- Nancy Macdonald
On Thursday afternoon, spin instructor Sabrina Schoen was focused on sorting her music playlist, making sure the mix of Top 40 tunes, old-school rap and hits from a decade ago would flow together to make her sweaty clients forget – at least momentarily – their heavy workloads. She was just hours away from teaching her first full indoor class since November.
“Really nervous,” was how she described her mood. “I’m feeling a little worried that I’m out of shape,” she said.
Like other high-intensity group workouts, spin classes were twice ordered to shut down after the pandemic touched down on Canada’s West Coast in March, 2020. Even though Ms. Schoen was able to ride at home by using a bike she rented from her studio, the past few months have been physically and mentally challenging.
“I wasn’t able to work out the way I wanted to, because part of it for me is really feeding off the energy of everybody,” she said. “I really feel like it played against my mindset a little bit.”
But with the announcement of the reopening, Ms. Schoen said she was ready to return to her “happy place”: a spin studio in Surrey’s Fleetwood neighbourhood.
“I feel like we’ve been waiting so long [and] I’m definitely very relieved that we can start again,” she said.
- Xiao Xu
Roger Collins can’t wait for people from all over Metro Vancouver to once again descend the stairs at his Calabash Bistro and enjoy another weekend bashment, or reggae dance party. For more than a decade, the nights – when rum flows from the small bar as DJs and live acts move the sweaty crowd – have drawn locals of Caribbean, African and Latin American descent, as well as anyone else searching for a great time.
The main-floor restaurant of the Downtown Eastside establishment was open throughout the pandemic, and the music has played on in the basement, but tables and chairs remain rooted to the dance floor – a product of the ongoing provincial ban on dancing in restaurants and bars. The supper club atmosphere makes for a much more staid experience downstairs, but still offers people a bit of respite during these uncertain times, said Mr. Collins, who grew up in Toronto, the only Canadian-born child of his mother, a Kittitian, and his father, a Vincentian.
“I’m trying to play the long game. I’m not doing anything to break the rules,” he said.
“At the end of the day, money doesn’t supersede anybody’s health.”
Following the dozens of COVID-19 regulations to this point has come at a heavy price: Mr. Collins and his business partners had to let half of Calabash’s staff of 20 people go when the pandemic hit. The bistro has survived thanks to government business bailouts.
Now, with last call for alcohol extended until midnight, Mr. Collins is rushing to hire and train more staff. He hopes that by the end of summer hugs will have replaced elbow bumps among friends and he will once again be posted up in the corner of the basement, surveying all the happy people.
“I miss the connection. I miss people vibing. I miss seeing couples dancing. I miss girlfriends going out for dancing nights together and seeing five girls out celebrating, dancing and singing all the lyrics – dudes getting together and singing the throwback hip-hop songs together. I miss all of that,” Mr. Collins said. “I’d watch it all go down. It was amazing and it was all cultures.”
- Mike Hager
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