Residents of St-Pierre-Miquelon say they are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
On Aug. 9, fully vaccinated travellers from the French territory can enter Canada for the first time in 17 months, and for many, embracing family and friends is the first — and most important — item on their to-do list.
"It's like a dark cloud lifting," Rita Thornhill of Grand Bank said in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show. "We're all very, very excited, I think so excited that I don't think anybody really slept last night."
When Thornhill's fiancé left for St-Pierre-Miquelon in March 2020, she had no idea that it would be more than a year before she would see him again. Once it was clear the border between France and Canada would be closed indefinitely, Thornhill and her fiancé had to figure out how to navigate the distance.
"A lot of conversations on the phone four and five times a day. There's days that have been really, really hard," she said.
After not seeing each other for more than a year, beginning in May, Thornhill and her fiancé were able to see each other in person again, but still from afar. Her fiancé has been bringing fish to Newfoundland every few weeks, but has not been able to leave the fishing vessel and step onto the wharf.
"You know, it's like they're literally there but they're, you know, more than an arm's distance away," she said. "That's been kind of heartbreaking."
Now that the border reopening date has been set, Thornhill says she's cautiously optimistic.
"I've been through so much that I think that I'm not going to actually believe it till they're actually here on the wharf," she said.
"Strength is all we got. We got to have hope. If we didn't have that, we'd have nothing. That goes for a lot of people in Newfoundland, Saint Pierre, all across the provinces, all across the world," Thornhill said. "I hope everyone gets to see their loved ones. I really do."
Anne Marie Heudes, originally from Newfoundland and now living in Miquelon, says she "flipped" when she found out the border would reopen soon.
"I don't know if I can believe it yet," she said.
In June, Heudes's 22-year-old daughter died. She said dealing with the tragedy while separated from her family in Newfoundland was "horrific."
"Nobody ever, ever could replace the support system I have in Newfoundland," she said.
She can't wait to finally hug her friends and family on the island, and her eight-year-old son is excited to see his grandparents.
Tourism, travel and testing
St-Pierre-Miquelon attempted to join the Atlantic bubble, but Newfoundland and Labrador officials noted that as it was technically international travel, it was up to the federal government to decide when the 6,000 citizens of the French islands would be allowed to enter Canada.
"We think of those thousands of people that have been on those islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the last 18 months and we look forward to welcoming them safely to Canada," said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Steve Le Bars, St-Pierre-Miquelon resident and owner of Frenchi's Tours, said the reopening of the border will allow the population of the islands to be "free."
He said he wants to help kick-start the tourism industry on both sides of the border but believes it will be difficult.
In order to enter St-Pierre-Miquelon, Canadians have to be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID-19 test result, but Newfoundland and Labrador public health is not currently offering testing for travellers. Instead, travellers must pay for a test from a private laboratory.
"I'm really wondering what people from Canada are going to think about paying that much money, to be honest," Le Bars said.
CBC contacted one local laboratory, which offers COVID-19 tests for $125 plus tax, and has a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours.
Once they are in St-Pierre-Miquelon and they want to return to Canada, travellers have to get another test and present another negative result at the border.
Le Bars said the first thing he'll do when he returns to Canada is visit family and friends, including his kids, whom he hasn't seen in two years.
"It's about time," he said.