New Brunswick-Quebec border communities eager to reopen travel bubbles

·5 min read
Residents of the Avignon Regional Municipality in Quebec will be allowed to travel to New Brunswick across the J.C. Van Horne Bridge under the expected reopening of a bubble in April. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Residents of the Avignon Regional Municipality in Quebec will be allowed to travel to New Brunswick across the J.C. Van Horne Bridge under the expected reopening of a bubble in April. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Communities along both sides of New Brunswick's northern border are welcoming an expected loosening of restrictions after months of challenges that kept them apart.

A near halt in travel across the interprovincial J.C. Van Horne Bridge meant reduced access to Campbellton, N.B. — a lifeline for work, school and services for many living in nearby Quebec.

Residents of Pointe-à-la-Croix and of Listuguj First Nation, a Mi'kmaw community in Quebec, received the news they were hoping for this week — beginning on April 19 they'll be able to travel in New Brunswick.

Pascal Bujold, the mayor of Pointe-à-la-Croix, said the community is happy after advocating for the change for months.

"We're excited for that but we're crossing our fingers that the situation will stay low," he said.

The northern bubble will include the entire Avignon Regional Municipality on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula and Témiscouata, which borders the Edmundston area.

Témiscouata Regional County Municipality has a population of 19,574, while Avignon Regional County Municipality has 14,461 residents, according to figures from the provincial government.
Témiscouata Regional County Municipality has a population of 19,574, while Avignon Regional County Municipality has 14,461 residents, according to figures from the provincial government.(Government of New Brunswick)

The start in late April is set to align with the expected return of the Atlantic bubble.

Residents from those Quebec communities must not have travelled outside of their region for 14 days before coming to New Brunswick. They can travel freely if they have received a first dose of vaccine at least 14 days prior.

Second attempt at bubble

New Brunswick first bubbled with Quebec border communities last summer as an extension of the Atlantic bubble. But Témiscouata was removed a little more than a month later after concerns over rising cases in the area.

What was left of the bubble came to an end in the fall after an uptick in cases and exposure.

Residents of Pointe-à-la-Croix and of Listuguj First Nation were allowed to continue to cross the border twice each week for medical appointments and child custody arrangements, and to buy essential items. Crossing for work was also exempt.

Then in late January, even tighter measures cut those essential visits down to once per week and made them more complicated. Residents from Quebec became required to undergo weekly testing for COVID-19 and show proof of a negative result.

Pascal Bujold is mayor of Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que. which is across the Restigouche River from Campbellton, N.B.
Pascal Bujold is mayor of Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que. which is across the Restigouche River from Campbellton, N.B.(Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Bujold said the feelings are mixed in Pointe-à-la-Croix after lobbying the New Brunswick government for weeks.

"Some people are still angry and they're still frustrated, but on the other side you've got a lot of family that can finally be together once again," he said.

The mayor plans to visit his mother in Dalhousie, N.B. He hasn't seen her since Christmas.

Businesses in the municipality of about 1,400 are also waiting for the bubble, after grappling with the loss of New Brunswick customers.

New Brunswick closed its borders to non-essential travel on March 25, 2020. That created friction in Listuguj First Nation, which some see as part of a larger community with Campbellton.
New Brunswick closed its borders to non-essential travel on March 25, 2020. That created friction in Listuguj First Nation, which some see as part of a larger community with Campbellton.(Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Pointe-à-la-Croix has also lost the flow of people from other Gaspé communities. Many would frequently travel for services in Campbellton and stop along the way to buy gas and shop.

"It's been bad," Bujold said. "People don't understand when you're away from this area."

Listuguj students returning to school

Five months after being barred from attending Sugarloaf High School in person, about 100 students from Listuguj First Nation were given the green light to return to class in Campbellton on Monday.

They received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, allowing them to travel across the river to study in New Brunswick.

Listuguj First Nation Chief Darcy Gray said the past year has been "incredibly challenging"

Darcy Gray is chief of Listuguj First Nation in Quebec.
Darcy Gray is chief of Listuguj First Nation in Quebec.(Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Students have been studying online at the community's adult education centre over the past few months. They've also had the support of Listuguj staff.

"It is exciting to be back in person, face to face with your teachers and see your peers again," Gray said.

The community's vaccine rollout has been going smoothly with more than 1,000 people getting shots in the first round.

Better than the Atlantic bubble

The Edmundston region is also welcoming the expected return of a bubble with neighbouring Témiscouata.

Cathy Pelletier, the executive director of the Edmundston Chamber of Commerce, said the bubble will be a big help for businesses and is better than access to the rest of Atlantic Canada.

"The first time that the Atlantic bubble was formed we didn't see any improvements whatsoever," she said.

"We are really close, so it's definitely going to be helpful for the restaurants and for the attractions."

Vehicles entering New Brunswick are stopped at the Quebec border for screening.
Vehicles entering New Brunswick are stopped at the Quebec border for screening.(Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

The Edmundston area has also experienced the loss of U.S. visitors over the past year.

Tight self-isolation rules for travel across the border has meant many businesses have lost contracts with Quebec clients.

Residents are cautiously optimistic with the emergence of new cases of COVID-19 following weeks of lockdown restrictions. The measures forced most non-essential businesses in the area to temporarily shut down.

"We hopefully will be staying the same way as we are now for the upcoming weeks," Pelletier said.