In early August, Kathleen Stepec and her six-year-old son Andrew had a busy day ahead of them. First, there was his big-boy haircut. Then a birthday party at an indoor jungle gym. But when Andrew asked if they could see a movie, the Toronto mother was forced to make some quick mental calculations.
Was it safe? She was fully vaccinated. Andrew was not. Everyone in the theatre would be wearing masks – unless they were eating popcorn.
In the end, the pair bought tickets to see Jungle Cruise. There were only two other people in the theatre.
Ms. Stepec says she’s glad they went. With COVID-19 cases rising again in Canada, and cooler weather on the horizon, she was unsure when they would feel comfortable enough to participate in indoor activities.
“I think we have this really small window right now where things are open and we’re actually allowed to do these [activities], as long as we’re following public health measures,” she says. “We do have to live – we have to get back to some kind of normalcy.”
Many others feel the same way, if summer tourist crowds in Quebec City are any indication. Walls of people wander the streets and pop into stores, donning masks to enter. At the city’s Museum of Civilization, its “Oh Shit!” exhibit (yes, it’s about poop) is busy, despite selling timed tickets in advance. In the middle of the day, physical distancing can be a challenge.
While an Ipsos poll in May indicated only 28 per cent of Canadians would feel safe attending an indoor event this year, those fears may be lifting as people fight their FOGO – fear of going out – after months at home.
Since then, a new poll released in July showed that more than two-thirds of respondents agree Canadians should learn to live with active COVID-19 cases as long as hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, and 56 per cent said they believe the spread of less-serious COVID-19 cases is acceptable in order to live without restrictions. Those in Quebec are most likely to feel that way, while people in British Columbia are the least.
For Maureen Fitzhenry, media relations manager at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, says she’s hoping a new marketing campaign will reflect these sentiments and land with potential museum-goers. The campaign focuses on the word “room.”
“There’s room here, this beautiful, spacious and airy place,” she explains. “It’s also a place where you can connect again with people and ideas. There’s room for hope.”
The campaign, which is emblazoned across billboards, in print, on social media and on the radio, will run until March, 2022. For now, it’s local. The museum isn’t ready to encourage tourists from outside the province. Even so, the museum is now starting to fill up. There are 300 to 400 visitors daily.
“That may not sound like much, but that is the most since the pandemic began,” she says, remembering the days when only a dozen people came. She credits higher vaccination rates and the museum’s mask mandate for the uptick in numbers and visitors’ increased comfort level. People often thank museum staff for insisting on masks, despite Manitoba not requiring it.
Meanwhile, at Guelph Grotto Climbing Co., in Guelph, Ont., Nick Perozzo, the indoor rock-climbing gym’s general manager, says the company has also seen numbers improve in recent months.
“Honestly, we’ve been booming here,” he says, explaining that because more than 83 per cent of those living in Guelph are fully vaccinated and COVID-19 case numbers remain relatively flat, there’s a sense of comfort. While many people are coming back for their first climb in months, topping a tough climb is often beside the point. “They’re more eager to just see their friends,” Mr. Perozzo says.
The gym has decided to cap attendance at 40 climbers – below the mandated 50-per-cent capacity – to help with physical distancing. It also uses the booking app RGPro Connect, as well as Instagram posts, so potential visitors can see in real time how busy the gym is. Climbers check in and out to keep the numbers current.
Mr. Perozzo says he hopes going the extra mile will pay off. When the building’s adjoining indoor skate park closed earlier due to the pandemic, Guelph Grotto snatched up the cavernous space, ordered new state-of-the-art climbing walls from Bulgaria, and plans to open it in December. It’s a gamble, but Mr. Perozzo believes customers are loyal.
“Because of the community we’ve built and the support we have, I’m very confident that we’ll be able to get through a fourth wave,” he says. “I’m not sure about a fifth, but a fourth for sure.”
John Tutt, owner of Princess Cinemas in Waterloo, Ont., and Playhouse Cinema in Hamilton, is also feeling hopeful, but far from secure. During the recent lockdowns between Nov. 20, 2020 and July 16, 2021, loyal moviegoers bought theatre-themed tote bags, postcards, T-shirts and movie passes to help keep the lights on. They stopped by for Friday night popcorn pickups too.
Today, everything is contact-free, from ticketing to concession sales, and there’s plenty of room to spread out, with about only 70 of 250 seats available in one of the theatres. The Hamilton location has also installed a 35-millimetre film projector, a draw for crowds who want to experience vintage cinema.
While masks, spacing and vaccines play a part in the recent increase in moviegoer attendance, Mr. Tutt says he thinks the uptick is based on something far more fundamental: the ability to put phones away and step back from the constant work and family interruptions.
“You disconnect from all of that for two hours. That’s what movie going is all about – the escape.”
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