It’s a sight twenty months in the making.
“Well it’s a very important link between Canada and the U.S,” said Tom Sims, waving a Canadian flag, welcoming visitors as the MV Coho completed its first sailing since March 2020.
Onlookers waved and the sounds of bagpipes filled the air as Victoria residents celebrated the return of the 62-year-old vessel, which forced to shut down during the pandemic.
With the U.S. now allowing Canadians to enter the country for non-essential reasons via land and sea, border lineups stretched long across the country Monday morning, and Black Ball ferry terminal was no different.
“When it comes to the snowbirds, as we see today, we’re full,” said Ryan Burles, President and CEO of Black Ball Ferry Line. “We’re booked for the next six sailings so we’re very happy with that.”
Peter Phillippe is one of those snowbirds who was lucky enough to reserve a spot on the day’s first departure.
“I missed last year for the first time in 27 years in going south,” said Phillippe, who spends his winters in Yuma, Arizona. “So this is a big day for me.”
Down the line we meet Lisa Fehr, set to reunite with her long-time American boyfriend who she’s seen only a handful of times during the pandemic.
“I’m so excited,” said Fehr. “I’ve been standing here watching the Coho come in and I’ve been in tears…It’s a lifeline, it’s a connection.”
It’s also another means of bringing Americans to Vancouver Island and providing a potential boost for Island businesses.
“The fact that they’re even operating is a huge heavy lift,” said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria. “The impact will be modest at first but it’s just so important to have them back in the game.”
Despite a ceremonial day featuring a processional-like boat performance on the water, the Canadian travel industry’s future remains uncertain.
“There’s things here that are not going to make it easy and seamless for people to cross the border,” said Burles.
Going to the U.S. requires proof of double vaccination. Returning to Canada, however, requires seeking out and purchasing a COVID-19 PCR test costing upwards of $200 CAD.
One Port Angeles pharmacy told CHEK News it charges $175 USD. The prices, however, vary on location and speed of the test. The test then needs to be presented negative to a Canadian border guard within 72 hours of taking the test.
“In all honesty, as long as that’s there it’s really going to mute travel,” said Burles.
Burles adds that his high ticket sales were due to long-term travellers. Short-term travellers, he says, will see the federal regulations as a significant deterrent.
Changes to the regulations, however, could be on the way.
“All of these border policies are being actively looked at,” said Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer via press briefing last Friday. “One of the key ones was what testing measures should be in place for people taking shorter trips.”