Following Premier Doug Ford’s announcement last Thursday, marinas were allowed to open for recreational boating as of this past Saturday.
Allan Lafontaine, executive director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce and the harbourmaster for the Port of Orillia, says being open is a “sign of summer,” adding Port of Orillia staff are happy to be back to work on the docks.
“On Monday, we saw heavy boat traffic, so we are hoping we can get back to normal here. Of course, that depends on vaccines and our COVID numbers,” Lafontaine said. He is expecting a busy summer.
“I think it will continue to be busy. People have found Orillia, they see what a great community we are, they see all our nice shops, restaurants, parks and potential we have. It’s natural that people will want to come here,” he said.
Despite being excited and happy with the re-opening of marinas, Lafontaine says the Port of Orillia has had its fair share of challenges since last Thursday.
“Getting staff back has been a challenge, and winter left a little bit of wear and tear on our docks, but we have our small staff out there cleaning up and we are ready to welcome people back,” he said.
While marinas are currently open, COVID-19 protocols are restricting people to only sharing their boats with people from the same household. The restrictions make boating one of the safest outdoor activities during the stay-at-home order, Lafontaine says.
“Boating is a safe activity right now if you are going out with just your family, you aren’t really touching anything, you are spread out on the water, and our marina is allowed to be open with social distancing,” he said.
With vaccination rates going up, and COVID-19 case numbers going down, Lafontaine is eager to invite people from other regions to share Orillia’s waterfront once the stay-at-home order is lifted.
“Boaters mean a lot to our local businesses, they spend a lot of money in our community, they come here for holidays to go out, dine, and buy supplies in Orillia,” he said.
“This year is so important for those boaters; we need them to come and stay with us while supporting our local businesses so that next year when we hopefully return to a normal summer, those businesses are still there.”
Bridge Port Marina owner Trevor Lecluse says the provincial government’s decision to open marinas is “fantastic for everyone” as it allows people to take a break from the pandemic.
“We are happy to have our customers back here ... we are happy people can have the mental break and the escape that going out on their boats brings,” Lecluse said.
While Lecluse is glad to have his marina fully opened, he says the short notice from the province last Thursday left the marina industry scrambling to get ready for Saturday.
“Doug Ford literally gave us 24 hours’ notice ... which makes it very challenging to run a business,” he said.
The constant revolving door of restriction and lockdown changes has been hard to keep up with for most marinas, Lecluse says.
“It’s challenging for us to prep boats when we don’t know what the regulations are going to look like; they could change things again later this afternoon. It feels like a juggling act at times and it’s not like we have any advance notice, we aren’t given any heads up,” he said.
While Lecluse has enjoyed seeing his local regulars return to the marina over the past week, he reminds customers to still follow all regulations and guidelines to help keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
“We are not 100% out of the woods yet, everyone needs to be careful when they are coming around the marinas and dealing with our dock staff,” he said.
“We aren’t all vaccinated, and we aren’t all protected. In order to be here to support the boating season we can’t have people coming here and getting us infected and sick. Let’s make sure we are all staying safe, staying healthy, and staying in our six-foot space.”
Local boater Jed Levene spends many summer days out on the boat with his wife and two young children. Levine is thrilled to have boating return as a permitted activity during the pandemic.
“It’s wonderful. One of the big advantages to living in this area is enjoying the beautiful waterfront, so being able to get back out on the boat is huge for us,” Levene said.
Levene says boating is an “escape" for him and his family during the dark and gloomy pandemic days.
“One of the things we’ve realized through the pandemic is how lucky we are to live in this part of the world and province. Being out on the water is a great escape and something we can do in line with social distancing and all the rules that need to be followed during the pandemic,” he said.
Dyson Walters is another local boater who is thankful to be back out on his boat.
“It couldn’t have happened sooner, it makes the season so unfortunately short now because of the delay, but other than that, I’m happy about it, very happy,” Walters said.
“I like being on the water with my friends when it’s safe to do so, we all kind of raft together in a swimming area,” he said.
“It’s just like sitting around the campfire, it’s very therapeutic.”