Paul Funston and Mary Lou Baldwin pose for a photo with their trailer in Fort Langley, B.C., Friday, December 18, 2020. The duo would normally spend the winter south of the border, but with the Canada-U.S border closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are spending it at a campground in southern B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

Paul Funston and Mary Lou Baldwin pose for a photo with their trailer in Fort Langley, B.C., Friday, December 18, 2020. The duo would normally spend the winter south of the border, but with the Canada-U.S border closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are spending it at a campground in southern B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel

Senior snowbirds congregate in B.C. when wings clipped by COVID-19 border closures

Thousands of those snowbirds have converged on southern B.C.

On a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is a campsite packed with Canadian snowbirds who found refuge when the border with the United States was shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other years, all 118 full-service sites at Fort Camping in Langley are occupied, said Marilyn Stone, the manager of guest services at the campsite.

It started in March, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians around the world to come home, Stone said.

Travellers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. came to quarantine and before they left for the summer, they booked for the winter, she said.

The Canadian Camping and RV Council said at least 50,000 full-time users of recreational vehicles who usually spend their winters in the United States had to find a site north of the border.

Thousands of those snowbirds have converged on southern B.C., packing full-service campgrounds to wait out the winter, say tourism and lodging groups in the province.

Mary Lou Baldwin and her partner Paul Funston normally head home from Arizona to an RV site in Grimsby, Ont., but it was closed.

Instead, she “begged” Fort Camping to allow them to come in to quarantine this spring, said Baldwin, 79.

She took no chances on the border reopening and booked Fort Camping for the winter.

“I sensed that we were going to be in deep trouble come this winter because everybody, they can’t go south and they’re going to come here. They’ll want to get into B.C.”

Funston, 78, said the relentless rain in Metro Vancouver in November and parts of December has made it easy to quarantine in their trailer, but they wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

“There is no place in Canada from the East Coast all the way to this area that doesn’t have winter. So, there’s no escape until you come here,” he said in a telephone interview.

Doug Overholt, 74, would normally be in Palm Springs, Calif., this time of year, and said he considered getting on a plane to head south while having his 12-metre motorhome trucked across the border. But he had health insurance considerations and instead decided to sit out the winter at Fort Camping.

“I’ve got satellite TV and radio and whatever I need there. They have wonderful internet service here.”

Joss Penny, the executive director of the B.C. Lodging and Campgrounds Association, said about 100 private-sector campgrounds are open year-round, most of them in southern B.C.

He said the snowbirds in campsites are treated just like any other family would be if they were living in separate condominiums.

“We don’t have the clubhouse open, we don’t have the washrooms open, they’re in their own self-contained RV and home. They aren’t supposed to mix and mingle with other people in the park.”

The Gallagher Lake Camping & RV Resort, near Oliver, usually has just a few winter visitors, but manager Jamie Cox said the phone started ringing endlessly one day in March. They set up a quarantine location, arranged a grocery system and overnight, all 80 of their sites were full, he said.

“We were literally in a necessity position and went to the provincial government to get an essential service designation,” said Cox, who’s also the chairman of the B.C. Lodging and Campgrounds Association.

He said many of those spring campers returned for the winter.

Rob Littlejohn, part owner of Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, said by mid-July, there were 100 people on their winter wait-list.

“They’re from everywhere in the country that’s cold,” he said.

Full-time motorhome residents have been wintering on Vancouver Island for decades, said Anthony Everett, the president of Tourism Vancouver Island. The difference this year is snowbirds had nowhere else to go.

“We realized that we had a situation on our hands,” Everett said. “Our motivation was to make sure that snowbirds understood all the places they could go on the Island. They also needed to understand there were places on the Island that weren’t actually ready to have people come back to see them.”

With tourism down by 60 per cent, Everett said the snowbird migration is one bright spot in what has been a horrible year for their businesses.

At Fort Camping, Connie Axelsen and her partner are planning a quiet holiday season when they would normally be celebrating with the group of friends they have made in Arizona.

“I look at the positives, you know it could be a lot worse. We’ve got a nice warm home, we’ve got nice neighbours, we’re in a beautiful area. Would I like to be down south, oh you bet. But until they lift the restrictions and the vaccines are out, we’re staying put.”

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey RCMP say that after checking on a “semi-conscious” driver in Whalley on Jan. 20, 2021, officers found about 21 grams of suspected cocaine, 68 grams of suspected fentanyl, about $1,400 in case, a stolen shotgun and ammunition. (Photo: Surrey RCMP handout)
Surrey RCMP say ‘semi-conscious’ driver found with drugs, gun

Officer saw ‘open alcohol and suspected drugs’ inside the vehicle, police say

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Officers investigate the scene after a pedestrian was struck and killed on Friday morning. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Male pedestrian, 37, killed in Abbotsford after being struck by vehicle

Collision took place in 31800 block of South Fraser Way on Friday morning

Most Read