The trip to Canada is a prize for the vaccinated and vigilant
KAMOURASKA, Quebec – When the pandemic fell, the limitless views and insane sunsets of Kamouraska became a distant and unattainable dream for this cyclist from Virginia. It is one of the most beautiful places in Quebec and, for me, an annual touchstone that I could no longer touch.
It is finally at hand. On August 9, the day Canada conditionally reopened the border to American tourists, my car with the bike was packed and ready to go. But I wasn’t. I had postponed the required coronavirus test too late to be sure I had the results on time.
On Labor Day, with my paperwork now complete, I drove north, crossed the border, and quickly cycled through a tapestry of storybook villages, canola fields and wild rose hedges. along the vast expanse of the St. Lawrence River.
Americans who wish to experience Canada’s vibrant autumn or its wintery landscapes can do so again. But getting here means jumping through hoops before you go. And to be here is to adapt to hypervigilance against the virus. Canada doesn’t mess around with COVID-19 – and doesn’t suffer from it like people in many parts of the United States are now.
These hoops? To enter Canada as a tourist, you must be fully immunized. You must take a COVID variety PCR test no more than 72 hours in advance, with results ready to be presented at the border if you are driving or at the departure airport before you can board.
You must first register with the Canadian government and obtain a code. You should lay out the basics of a backup quarantine plan ahead of time, in case you are randomly tested again upon arrival and found positive.
You can’t be like the Atlanta man the border guards were talking about when I walked through. He had stopped a few nights earlier, unvaccinated, without testing, without registration and without hope of entering Canada, more than 16 hours from home.
I crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ontario, where there was no waiting. Two officials checked my vaccines and my test documentation before I could make it to the border crossing, where I had the information and my US passport checked again. The guard asked a few questions and cheerfully sent me on my way.
In the nearby town of Brockville, people wore masks both inside and out. They were masked in the streets of downtown, in the waterfront park and in parking lots. When I gave in to my unnatural craving for Tim Hortons coffee, a rarity in most of the United States but everywhere, just across Canada, a group of about 10 people walked in together.
They were masked, but not socially distanced. The staff immediately ordered them out and told them to come back properly separated, a few at a time.
This contrasted with the laxity along much of the Interstate 81 corridor and upstate New York, where few shoppers in stores off the freeway were masked and no enforcement of the distancing was not obvious. After my trip, St. Lawrence County in New York was seeing new cases of COVID at a rate 12 times higher than across the river in Ontario.
Vigilance in Ontario only intensified when I reached Quebec the next day. It was the first days of Quebec’s “vaccine passport”, the first of its kind in Canada.
Residents over 12 years old must have the passport to be seated indoors or on the terraces of restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events of more than 50 people and most other public places that are not judged essential. Foreigners do not need and cannot obtain the passport but must present proof of vaccination as well as an identity document indicating a residential address outside Quebec. Proof of vaccination is not required to stay in a hotel in Quebec, but must be presented to enter the halls and other common areas.
Jimmy Staveris, left, manager of Dunn’s Famous restaurant scans a customer’s COVID-19 QR code in Montreal on September 1, 2021, as the Quebec government’s COVID-19 vaccine passport goes into effect. Residents over 12 years old must have the passport to be seated indoors or on the terraces of restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events of more than 50 people and most other public places that are not judged essential. Foreigners do not need and cannot obtain a passport but must present proof of vaccination as well as an identity document indicating a residential address outside Quebec. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press via AP)
FILE – A car crosses the Canadian border in Niagara Falls, Ontario on August 9, 2021. US citizens and permanent residents are now allowed to enter Canada for non-essential purposes if they can provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days. (Eduardo Lima / The Canadian Press via AP, File)
A grain field stretches to the St. Lawrence River from a quiet country road outside Kamouraska, Quebec on September 9, 2021. Quebec’s maritime vistas and cycle routes are beyond reach of Americans since the pandemic swept the world. Canada is once again accessible to visitors from the United States and other countries, provided they are vaccinated and follow other protocols to enter the country. (AP Photo / Calvin Woodward)
FILE – A cyclist admires the view of the St. Lawrence at Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Quebec, August 12, 2015. Along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in this area around Kamouraska, the panorama of the river , sky, flowers and gardens defines the magic of cycling on the Route Verte network in Quebec. (AP Photo / Cal Woodward, file)
One of Quebec’s most popular cycling routes takes cyclists through panoramas like this one, overlooking the islands and the vast waters of the St. Lawrence River near the village of Kamouraska on September 8, 2021. This maritime region Quebec normally attracts many visitors from Europe, the United States and other parts of Canada, drawn by biking, hiking, whale watching and natural beauty. But it is only beginning to open up again to foreigners, thanks to relaxed rules for entering Canada. (AP Photo / Calvin Woodward)