Snow place like home? Ontarians chase powder to Gatineau Park

·2 min read

Though health officials in both Ontario and Quebec have warned against crossing the Ottawa River's bridges purely for recreation, that guidance doesn't seem to have reached the parking lots of Gatineau Park.

One week ago, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, told Ottawans not to cross the river. Pontiac, Que., Mayor Joanne Labadie had said even earlier that hikers, skiers and snowshoers from Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., were exploring trails in her area, even with both provinces under lockdown.

Even so, on Friday — with 15 centimetres of fresh, powdery snow on the ground and blue skies overhead — the lure of Gatineau Park proved too much for some Ontarians to resist.

About half of the vehicles at the P16 and P17 trailheads at Meech Creek and in Wakefield, Que., bore Ontario plates.

Almost none of the park visitors agreed to speak to CBC on the record about why they'd decided to ignore the instructions of several mayors, various medical officers of health, and not one but two premiers.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

'They want to support us'

Many shop clerks in nearby Chelsea, Que., also declined interview requests, saying they don't want to discourage Ontarians from spending their money locally.

"Some [visitors from Ontario] have a little bit of a guilty appearance or tone," said Bruce Minnes, who works at Cafe Les Saisons.

"But they want to support us, so they're coming in to help keep things going here, too."

Cross-country skier Ian Takoff was one of the few Ontarians willing to make his opinion heard.

"I think the people that decided that aren't really skiers. They don't know what happens when you get up here to ski," said Takoff.

At 82, and a visitor to the park for the past 40 years, Takoff has a pretty good idea. He said he and his wife skied nearly 18 kilometres Friday in the mild temperatures, without talking to anybody else.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

'No danger'

They normally drive to the parking lot, do their skiing, and return home, he said.

And with winter apparently in full swing now, Takoff — along with some of the others unwilling to go on the record about their intentions — say they have no plans on stopping their visits to Gatineau Park.

"It would be different if bars were open, and restaurants, and people were stopping and fraternizing with people from Quebec," Takoff said.

"This particular activity, skiing, there's no danger, I'd say."