“We both got emotional on the phone,” Sandi Lowther said as she described finally being able to book an Ontario customer for a visit to Fairways Cottages, the seven-acre vacation retreat she has co-owned and operated in the Prince Edward Island community of Cavendish for the past 24 years.
“I said the first thing we’re going to do is pop some Champagne and toast. You just connect with people when you have them on your property.”
That connection with summer getaways in PEI hadn’t been possible for most Canadians since the pandemic began. But, as of July 18, the island is once again open to Canadian travellers, with no need for isolation upon arrival – though proof of vaccination is required for everyone 12 or older.
As word of the loosened restrictions spreads throughout Canada, PEI’s hotel and resort operators say they are looking forward to once again welcoming out-of-province guests.
Before the pandemic, PEI, which is Canada’s smallest province, annually attracted about 1.5 million visitors. As a resident of neighbouring Nova Scotia, I’ve been visiting my whole life.
Earlier this month, during my first return to the island since the pandemic’s onset, I travelled tranquil countryside. I was reminded that PEI never stops giving. Everywhere a visitor looks, there’s something to behold: bald eagles at shorelines, early morning mussel boats pushing into bays, sunrises over potato fields and sunsets washing across waves and rust-red cliffs.
“I’m thrilled our borders are opening up to the rest of Canada. I’ve always trusted the science, and it hasn’t led us astray,” Ms. Lowther said. “We feel we are a safe, welcoming place, with beaches and so many things to do outside, where people seem the most comfortable.” Fairways, she said, has introduced an outdoor movie theatre, and visiting families have taken to it well.
Though the island largely avoided uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus, many local businesses took financial hits. Julia Campbell, who co-owns the North Shore Group, said her bottom line was severely affected. Revenues at the tourist-friendly attractions the group operates – the Anne of Green Gables Museum, the Anne of Green Gables Stores and Jem’s Boutique – were down 75 per cent to 80 per cent over the past two years, she said.
Federal and provincial wage and rent subsidies, local support and the flow of visitors enabled by the Atlantic bubble (which allowed freedom of movement between the Atlantic provinces in 2020) have been crucial to survival, she said.
Hope on the horizon and people in the streets have her sounding almost giddy. “Walking down Sydney Street, I almost welled up,” she said. “Shops were open late, patios were full. There are people here and they’re not from Charlottetown. That is just the most hopeful, wonderful feeling I’ve had.”
In Charlottetown, at Slaymakers and Nichols, an elegant gastropub on Fitzroy Street, our server deposited a Pistol Pete lobster burger and strawberry-infused mojito before me. There was a definite thrum in the air as we dined inside, under chandeliers and beside exposed brick. All the patio seats were already taken.
Rural PEI is still quiet. But signs advertising strawberry shortcakes, artist galleries and ceilidhs (a type of traditional social gathering with live music) are returning to roadsides. The Cavendish Boardwalk, typically thronged with tourists, had only a steady trickle on a recent July day.
At Evermoore Brewing Co., a craft brewery and island-cuisine-focused restaurant in the city of Summerside’s repurposed train station, owner Alex Clark said reopening has been wild. “Just instantly people were here,” he said. “I’m certainly excited for it. It’s been a long time coming.”
The writer was a guest of Tourism PEI. The organization did not review or approve this article before publication.
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