Killarney Mountain Lodge is planning a Family Day weekend event next month, but the local community is doing everything they can to shut it down.
Concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in the region, residents are furious that the lodge is encouraging visitors from out of town.
“Killarney has a very high population of vulnerable at-risk seniors. This event will bring hundreds to our small aging community, general store, and gas station and could be disastrous,” said Patricia Crimp-Barbetta.
“All we are seeing is promotion for this event, but in reality, there is still a provincial stay-at-home order. Everybody that we’ve spoken to is against this.”
The event is a spin on the lodge’s annual pond hockey tournament – this year, Hockeyfest Game On is providing outdoor hockey rinks that will be set up outside Canada House on Georgian Bay and families can rent rinks privately in one-hour increments.
When they aren’t skating, visitors are encouraged to enjoy other activities like an outdoor fire and smores, dining at the lodge, or participating in a trivia night, according to the event page.
Renting a rink during the February Family Day Getaway, which is set to take place from Feb. 12 to 15, costs $99 for 50 minutes of ice time with a room booking and $149 without.
On the event page, customers are encouraged to book their accommodations.
Pat Barbetta, Crimp-Barbetta’s father, said that Killarney has been lucky so far during the pandemic because the town has not had one confirmed case of COVID-19.
If families start visiting from COVID hotspots – including Sudbury, which has 99 active cases as of Friday – it would spell trouble for the community.
“If one case comes into this town, and infects a resident, I believe it’s going to sweep through,” he said.
Other Killarney residents have taken to social media to voice their concern about the event, and their pleas have not gone unheard.
Town council has so far passed two resolutions in opposition to a Killarney Mountain Lodge event this month, one on Jan. 13 and another on Jan. 27.
The original resolution stated: “Be it resolved that Council for the Municipality of Killarney does not support Killarney Mountain Lodge hosting a Hockey Fest Tournament this year due to the recent declaration of emergency imposed by the province.”
It was further included in the resolution that the municipality would be happy to support the event “when circumstances allow.”
The second resolution passed read: “Be is resolved that the Council for the Municipality of Killarney has a duty to protect our citizens and as such will voice residents’ concerns to Holden Rhodes of Killarney Mountain Lodge in regard to encouraging visitors (non-essential travel) from other areas of the province to attend the lodge on the weekend of Feb. 12 to 15 as per the Family Day Event advertising.”
The municipality said that it would advocate on behalf of concerned citizens and requested that the lodge only promote and hold the event if the stay-at-home order is lifted.
Council members unanimously voted to adopt both resolutions and forwarded them to the owner of the lodge.
“Mr. Rhodes, who owns the lodge, has indicated that he’s going to continue on regardless of the feelings of the community,” said Killarney Mayor Nancy Wirtz.
“In email communications, he indicated that he intends to go forward and he believes that he’s within the restrictions that the province has put in place, and he doesn’t seem to, I guess, value the community’s position on it.”
Wirtz echoed Barbetta’s concerns that if the virus were to enter the community, it would spread quickly. Killarney is a small, tight-knit town with a population of 386, according to the 2016 census.
“We should be taking all measures to prohibit that from happening,” she said.
When it comes to measures, however, there’s not much council can do. The town can’t legally prevent the lodge from holding this event, and when it comes to the provincial regulations, things aren’t always black and white.
“Hotels and resorts are allowed to be open under the regulations. They are considered an essential service, I suppose, but it’s the reason for being there, right?” she said.
“To me, there’s not really a whole lot of people that would have an essential reason to be in Killarney and in a hotel.”
For more insight into the situation, The Sudbury Star contacted Sgt. Carlo Berardi, a communications officer with the North East OPP.
“The spirit of the legislation is that people stay home and only leave when they have to. We are trying to minimize the potential of further spread of the virus,” he said.
“Trying to find loopholes in the legislation is not wise. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – don’t be surprised if you get charged.”
Police will not arbitrarily stop people to determine if they are complying with restrictions, and discretion will still be used by officers when it comes to who gets charged.
Berardi, however, encouraged people to use common sense.
“There’s a difference between a guy with snowshoes in his trunk traveling a couple hours to a trail so that he can go snowshoeing and a family of four in a car on their way to a hotel claiming that they are traveling for exercise,” he said.
“The first case is easily substantiated. The second one, not so much.”
If an event is found to be contrary to provincial regulations, the event organizer and its attendees can be charged.
“The OPP charged a total of 24 people last year, and so far this year, we’ve already charged 17. This legislation is for people’s benefit – buckle down, as difficult as it may be, and be patient,” he said.
It is possible that Killarney Mountain Lodge will be able to hold the event if the provincial stay-at-home order is lifted prior to the event date, but there is no way of knowing whether that will occur or if other restrictions will be introduced.
If the event happens regardless, Barbetta is concerned that police will not be able to do anything about it until the damage is already done.
“They aren’t doing anything wrong right now by just promoting the event. The cops will only be able to help once people are already here,” he said.
According to Wirtz, Killarney Mountain Lodge has consulted with Public Health Sudbury & Districts about the event.
The lodge also had an extensive list of health protocols listed on the event page.
“Killarney Mountain Lodge endeavours to not only meet but exceed government and Health Department requirements in terms of sanitization and guest safety. We are doing everything possible to ensure your safety, enjoyment of our facilities and dining experiences,” said the page.
The health protocols include regular temperature checks of all employees, watching for symptoms among guests, quarantines for anyone who presents with symptoms, maintaining records for contact tracing, and increased sanitization.
The lodge did not immediately respond to request for comment.
In an email, the health unit said it does not support the event. "Under normal circumstances, community events are important for overall health and well-being," the email said. "However, during a global pandemic and a local and provincial surge in COVID-19 cases, the very real risks associated with such events significantly outweigh the potential benefits.
"As Public Health Sudbury & Districts Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sutcliffe does not support such events at this time and continues to encourage all residents to stay at home and only leave for essential purposes. Everyone is responsible for preventing further spread of COVID-19, and for protecting one another and especially vulnerable residents within our communities."
When asked if this event goes against provincial regulations or public health protocols, the health replied: "Any event that promotes non-essential travel, as well as public gatherings and interactions, goes against federal, provincial, and public health guidance during this pandemic.
"At the current time, such an event would contravene the provincial Stay at Home Order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. Determination of whether such an event would be in compliance with provincial legislation at the time of the event would be based on the current legislation and the level within which Public Health Sudbury & Districts catchment area is placed within the provincial COVID-19 Response Framework at the time."
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Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star