Planning a Canada Visit With Border Open? Here’s What to Expect
When U.S. travelers do begin to return next week, they’ll find a country that, like their own, has changed.
After 17 months of forced separation, Canada will reopen and begin welcoming back vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9 via its land border crossings. (For the moment, the U.S. does not plan to reciprocate until at least Aug. 21) The country will open to fully vaccinated travelers of all other nationalities on September 7.
Though the news has been met with trepidation from some who fret that Americans may increase cases of the Delta variant, many, particularly in the border towns, are elated. Marg Harding, a city councillor in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, a town of 4,400 bordering the state of Maine, told The Globe and Mail that an upswing in visitors would inject new life into the town. “We’re the gateway… people stop and shop here,” she said. “Any business in town here could benefit.” She hopes case numbers will remain low in her province, “but we certainly want to see our American friends again.”
Indeed. The U.S. tourism market is huge for Canada. Tourists from the U.S. spend almost as much money in Canada as foreigners from all other countries combined. In 2018, for instance, American visitors spent $10.6 billion, while tourists from other countries, together, disbursed $11.3 billion.
The pandemic, a time of reflection and demands for change
When U.S. travelers do begin to return next week, they’ll find a country that, like their own, has changed. Tourists will find a Canada that is more muted than it was in pre-pandemic times, a Canada a bit more beat-up and much humbled. At least for now.
Many restaurants, bars, and shops did not survive the multiple lockdowns. And, in the case of Quebec, the almost five-month-long 8 p.m. curfew, during which even daytime outdoor dining was prohibited, was even tougher on restaurant owners. In April this year, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada announced that it was on the verge of bankruptcy.
According to a report compiled in March 2021 by Destination Canada, the country’s official tourism board, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada’s tourism industry has been greater than that experienced after 9/11, SARS, and the 2008 economic crisis combined. With 10 percent of Canadian jobs connected to tourism, thousands of people working in tourism or in tourism-related sectors found themselves suddenly unemployed.
Canada’s vaccination campaign got off to a rocky start due to lack of vaccine supply, compounded by lengthy delivery delays. And it didn’t help that the country closed its own vaccine manufacturing facilities a few decades ago.
Eight months since the inoculation campaign kicked off, however, the country’s vaccination efforts are going surprisingly well. As of July 24th, 80.3 percent of Canadians 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, with 63.68 percent fully vaxxed.
As in the States, Canada has experienced, over these past 18 months, disturbing and tragic events that have forced it to ponder its most fundamental values and its very raison d’être as a nation. In a country that many outsiders—and even Canadians themselves—view as a genteel, multicultural utopia, Canada has been forced to confront its own racist and misogynistic demons. There have been several killings by police of Black, Indigenous, and mentally ill people. And the nation was shocked to its core when, in May, the remains of 215 First Nations children were found at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia. Since then, more remains have been found at more sites.
In many ways, the pandemic has served as a tipping point. It has been a time for serious reflection, demonstration (when possible) and demands from the public for real and radical change.
Rules for visitors to Canada
Inoculated American citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. who have received a full round of one of the four vaccines approved in Canada (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or AstraZeneca) at least 14 days prior to arrival in Canada will not be required to quarantine.
However, visitors will need to submit proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. This must be done via ArriveCAN, which can be downloaded as an app or by creating an account and signing in online.
Travelers should also be prepared for the possibility of being randomly selected to undergo a PCR test on their first day in Canada. They should, moreover, have a quarantine plan, in case the test results are positive.
During various lockdowns, some interprovincial borders were closed to residents of other provinces. This was particularly true of the Atlantic provinces—Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Provincial borders have reopened this summer but some provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia require travelers to complete a travel form or Safe Check-in form. Consult the Destination Canada website to check each province and territory’s guidelines and see what’s open.
New, regenerative, and inspiring experiences
While travel in Canada this summer and into 2022 will certainly not be the same as it was pre-pandemic, there is still plenty on offer. In terms of nature activities and meaningful, transformative experiences that give back to communities, wildlife and the environment, probably more so.
National and provincial parks are a bigger draw than ever since the pandemic caused people to search for wide open spaces and develop a greater appreciation for nature, wildlife—especially birds—and starry skies. While Indigenous tourism suffered a major blow when they learned that the federal government would not allocate funds in 2021, public interest is stronger than ever and there remain a plethora of immersive, punch-packing First Nations tourist experiences available from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans.
The experiences and places mentioned below should, as Destination Canada President and CEO Marsha Walden says, “inspire you and make you feel proud to tell people where you’ve visited…. because travelers today want more than an experience,” she says. “They want personal enrichment.”
Vancouver Island’s Malahat SkyWalk, a 600-meter (1,968-foot) elevated “tree walk” above a forested mountain overlooking the Salish Sea, opened in July this year. Located on the traditional territory of the Malahat Nation, the site incorporates Indigenous stories and culture in its design.
At Nk' Mip Cellars, in British Columbia’s renowned Okanagan Valley, guests taste fine wines from the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America.
For star chasers, the Yukon offers plenty of opportunities for stargazing and aurora borealis-watching. Terra Riders has introduced an Aurora Canoe Tour on Lake Laberge available between the end of August and the beginning of November.
Alberta’s Writing on Stone Provincial Park, located in the Canadian Badlands, received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2019 for containing the most notable concentration of protected First Nations’ petroglyphs and pictographs on the Great Plains of North America.
The John Ware Cabin in Dinosaur Provincial Park, also in Alberta’s Badlands, is a testament to John Ware, the legendary Black slave from South Carolina who rose to fame in the Canadian prairies due to his remarkable horsemanship skills, likeable personality, and sheer force of will.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park, an ecological and archaeological park and museum/interpretive site in Saskatchewan completed a $USD 32 million expansion at the end of 2020. The site now includes seven new exhibits, a new snowshoeing/hiking trail, a renovated restaurant and a conference room inspired by the traditional Northern Plains Indigenous hand drum. And, in December 2019, the park reintroduced a herd of plains bison.
With the opening in early 2021 of the Qaumajuq Inuit Art Centre, Manitoba’s Winnipeg Art Gallery is now home to the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world.
Indigenous-owned and -operated backcountry wilderness Point Grondine Park, in Ontario, provides visitors the chance to canoe along ancient canoe routes, participate in hand drum performances, and join a guided hike to learn about edible and medicinal plants.
In Montreal, a city most would not ordinarily associate with Black history, Rito Joseph offers historical walking tours of Old Montreal, Little Burgundy and downtown with a focus on the city’s little-known Black history.
And just outside Quebec City, in Wendake, Quebec, the Huron-Wendat Nation wows visitors with its Hôtel-Musée Première Nations' museum, luxury hotel, nature spa, and gourmet restaurant. The site also features an impressive traditional longhouse surrounded by an imposing fort made of logs sharpened at the top.
The Celtic Performing Arts Centre in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, opened in summer 2018. The state-of-the-arts facility seats 290 people and is attached to the College of Piping, where students can learn bagpipe, drum, fiddle, step dance, ballet, hip hop and more.
Expected to be completed in fall 2021, the Fundy Trail Parkway, a 2,559-hectare park featuring a 30-km (18.6-mile) parkway hugging the southern coast of New Brunswick, is a road tripper’s and outdoor lover’s dream.
On the Nova Scotia side of of the Bay of Fundy, the Cliffs of Fundy were named a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2020. The geopark covers 165km (102 miles) of panoramic shoreline and includes about 40 designated sites.
2020 was a year for geopark recognition in the Atlantic. A second geopark, Discovery Global Geopark on Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula, was also accorded UNESCO Global Geopark status in 2020. To discover are 600 million-year-old fossils, spectacular rock formations and traditional root cellar farming.