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Brad Dokken: Prospects for enjoying Canada and all of its outdoors offerings remain uncertain

Had COVID-19 not come along and thrown the world into a tailspin, planning would be kicking into high gear for a fly-in fishing trip some friends and I had scheduled for July 4-11 to a remote lake about 150 miles off the grid north of Red Lake, Ont. Instead, we’re chanting the mantra of 2020: “Maybe next year. …”

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The sun rises over a remote lake in northwestern Ontario in July 2016. The ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel is having a significant impact on Canada's resource-based tourism industry, which relies extensively on American hunters and anglers who can't make scheduled trips so far this year. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Here’s the thing. …

I miss Canada.

I miss fishing in Canada, I miss visiting friends in Canada and I miss “Hockey Night in Canada.”

I miss pretty much everything about Canada, a place I normally visit about a dozen times a year.

Had COVID-19 not come along and thrown the world into a tailspin, planning would be kicking into high gear for a fly-in fishing trip some friends and I had scheduled for July 4-11 to a remote lake about 150 miles off the grid north of Red Lake, Ont.


Instead, we’re chanting the mantra of 2020:

“Maybe next year. …”

We had booked the trip more than a year ago, and since I’d fished the lake on two previous occasions way back in the 1990s, anticipation ran high. Walleye fishing was spectacular, and numerous improvements made to the camp in recent years, including the addition of satellite wi-fi, only heightened our anticipation.

Then came the pandemic.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March. The closure originally extended until May 21, but the two countries agreed to extend it until June 21.

I get the logic behind the extensions, as both countries struggle to get the pandemic numbers under control, but the impact on Canadian camps and fishing lodges will be devastating since they rely on U.S. anglers for a huge portion of their bottom lines.

The news potentially got even worse Wednesday, June 10, when Reuters news service reported the U.S. and Canada are set to further extend the ban on nonessential travel until late July.

Citing unnamed sources, the Reuters story said that while the decision isn’t final, “a further extension was highly likely.”


“It’s going to be a clean rollover” on June 21, a U.S. source told Reuters, requesting anonymity because the situation is so sensitive.

We’ll likely know for sure sometime next week, but for now, the outlook isn’t favorable.

Personally, I had resigned myself several weeks ago to canceling this year's fly-in trip, but as one of the organizers, I agreed to go along with the others and wait until June 1 before we decided. Even if the border reopened in time, we still would face the risk and uncertainty of traveling together and staying together for a week in a cabin that’s only accessible by floatplane.

June 1 came and went with little cause for optimism, and so we decided to bag the trip and reschedule for similar dates in 2021.

There’s that “maybe next year” thing again.

The camp operator was accommodating and has agreed to roll half of the deposits we’d paid on the trip over to next year. If we were to book a second trip in 2022, he’d put the other half down as a deposit for that year.

He also provided a copy of a report the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association – known as NOTO, for short – compiled in May, based on a survey of its members. The numbers paint a devastating picture of the pandemic’s impact on “resource-based tourism,” as NOTO calls the industry.

“To date, the challenges for this sector are immense,” the report states. “With the 2020 marketing season cut short and no means to generate revenues, seasonal tourism businesses are being stretched to cover fixed costs, maintain staff and simply stay afloat. The uncertainty of whether they will have a spring, summer or fall season makes it near impossible to plan or pivot for these small businesses.”


Based on the survey, 225 resource-based tourism operations responding to the survey said they would lose $50 million in May and June because of the border closure, a number that will rise exponentially higher when and if the closure is extended.

That number represents only 20% of Ontario’s resource-based tourism industry, NOTO said.

“This is absolutely devastating to an industry who provides such a significant contribution to the economy each year,” the NOTO report stated. “Our ability to serve the U.S. angling and hunting markets are vital to this industry’s survival.”

As staggering as the numbers are, keep in mind that’s just one province. Coupled with the impact on other provinces such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, both of which are popular destinations for tourists in Minnesota and North Dakota, “maybe next year” might not even be an option for many operators.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com .

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Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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