It’s official: Ontario is now testing out the waters of its Stage 3 Framework for Reopening our Province after the COVID-19 pandemic threw a giant stick into our wheel of everyday life. At least, that’s what it felt like then, didn’t it? But we Ontarians are a resilient people, and after brushing our knees off and attending to our collective scrapes and bruises, we got back on that metaphorical bicycle and kept on peddling… with maybe a little more caution to those hidden hazards on our path.
Today, we can be proud to state that through all stages of COVID-19, public health and safety has remained our number one priority when balancing the needs of the public and the economy. The Government of Ontario is taking a regional approach to its reopening, with regions that demonstrate readiness based on key public health indicators making the transition first. We are pleased to be amongst those regions paving the way for reopening, and we owe it all to our businesses and attractions who are doing everything they can to welcome visitors to a safe and healthy atmosphere.
A cautious step forward
Chuck Thibeault is the Executive Director of Central Counties Tourism, which is the provincially funded not-for-profit organization responsible for growing and supporting tourism in our region of York Durham Headwaters. For Chuck, who has a wide-angle lens on both the economic and literal health of our YDH stakeholders, reopening our region means a whole new round of re-educating potential visitors. “We want to make sure that local and regional residents understand the great protocols businesses have in place to make their visit safe and enjoyable,” he says. “We also want to remind people how important it is to get out and support these businesses that make their community a vibrant place to live, work and visit.”
While it is true that the shut-down from COVID-19 has had significant reverberations for businesses and attractions throughout YDH that will continue to be felt for a long time to come, the reopening of our region, even with necessary capacity restrictions, has brought hope to the tourism industry. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Chuck says. “The owners, managers and staff at the many attractions, accommodations, restaurants, festivals, etc., in YDH are passionate, resilient entrepreneurs who believe in their businesses and the positive impacts they have on their communities. They are quick to adapt and have created some great new programs for residents and visitors to experience.”
How some of our attractions are responding to reopening
With an outdoor location to welcome its visitors, which naturally comes with tons of space and fresh air, Forsythe Family Farms in Uxbridge is eager to welcome its guests back to enjoy the annual tradition of the fall harvest. But they want to ensure that people know a few things have changed. “Hand sanitizing and washing, social distancing and wearing masks are mandatory now,” says owner Leslie Forsythe. “Strawberry Pick-Your-Own protocols have focused on having single interactions in the sense that baskets were prepaid for and the cost included the berries. Our farm animals are open to visitors but our playground did not open until phase three was granted, and we have enacted a restriction in number of people for the playground: four families and fifteen kids maximum. Social distancing is still important even with lots of space available.”
It was Forsythe’s online shop and CSA program that helped this family farm get through the early months of the shutdown, and since reopening, owners Jim and Leslie and their staff have been getting creative on ways they can evolve and emerge stronger. “It was frustrating for us that we were unable to provide more of an outing for people like we used to,” Leslie admits. “This helped spur the development of our Greens on the Farm 9 Hole Scavenger Hunt which follows the safety guidelines for golfing, and gives people the opportunity to explore the farm in a safe and structured way. It has been well received, as the children love the challenge while the adults enjoy being outside and active.”
Overall, Forsythe Family Farms is cautiously optimistic about the fall, and regularly watches the data on COVID-19 to monitor case numbers as people’s freedom increases. “We’re apprehensive, but excited,” Leslie says.
Just as Durham Region was moving into stage three of reopening, Pickering Museum Village officially welcomed guests back to its historic grounds. “Reopening the museum under strict health and safety regulations has given us the opportunity to be creative in offering new experiences to our visitors,” says Laura Gibb, Supervisor of Museum Services for the City of Pickering. “The museum launched its first drive-thru haunted ghost tour in the region this summer, and it has been a fantastic new way for people to experience the museum from the safety of their vehicle while enjoying a fun and safe night out.”
(If you haven’t seen our article on the Pickering Museum Village’s Haunted Ghost Tour, check it out here!)
Pickering Museum Village is known for its hands-on activities, amazing guides and personalized experiences in the heritage village. When it reopened, staff wanted to ensure that those fun and memorable experiences were still present in each guest’s visit. The museum continues to gradually reopen by offering more in-person experiences at the museum. It has altered all on-site programs to be offered to groups of less than ten people, which has resulted in personalized experiences for visitors this season. Laura and her colleagues at the Pickering Museum Village are cautiously excited to welcome visitors back… to the past.
Plan your COVID-safe visit to YDH
We can’t tell you how pleased we are to see our amazing attractions and operations open their doors again. But of utmost importance is that, no matter where you go in YDH, before you come please check each of our businesses’ websites for their specific health and safety regulations and guidelines. No two attractions are the same, and each one has implemented the province’s recommendations and requirements in a way that is structured to meet the needs of their unique operation.
And always: socially distance, wash and sanitize hands regularly, keep hands away from faces, and wear a mask. Let’s all continue to be vigilant so that we can keep York Durham Headwaters moving forward.
Story by Katherine Ryalen