Snowbirds grounded

November 2020

Snow. Wind. Ice. Minus twenty degrees. Minus forty. It’s no mystery why so many Canadians flee our infamously long winters, trading weeks and/or months of interminable darkness for the sun and heat of southern climes. But this year, there’s a new player in the snowbird game. I asked three couples and a bold single about how COVID-19 is affecting their winter migration.

“We love the warm winters in Florida,” says artist Mary Ann Beckwith, who travels to Florida every winter with husband, Craig Macdonald. “We love the ocean and are drawn to the water, where the only ice is in your iced tea!”

Beckwith is an ex-pat US citizen and Macdonald is a lifelong sailor. For them, the lure of spending time on their boat during a season when their children are shoveling driveways was simply an opportunity too good to pass up. This year, however, they’ll be shoveling along with them.

“Until a vaccine or cure is found,” says Beckwith, “We’ll stay in Canada. People here seem to be more sensitive to protecting one another. Masks, social distancing and precautionary behaviour are much more the norm here than in the States. Besides, the beautiful land and amazing friends will help keep us enjoying the North!”

The Canadian government’s current Travel Advisory states ‘the decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. Travel Advice and Advisories provide recommendations about safety and security conditions abroad to enable Canadians to make their own informed decisions regarding travel.’ So, Canadians can travel abroad to many countries, the US included. The question is, will they?

I asked Doris and Terry Olsen, another couple who regularly fly the snowy coop to winter in Texas, what they were thinking.

“There are a number of people we travel with every year,” says Doris. “We stay in an RV park in Harlingen, Texas, and have been there for 10 years. We drive there so we have more time to sight see but this year, we had to cut our trip short due to Covid. We had to get home, fearing the border closure and our health insurance would not cover us if we were out of country. It was quite scary having to distance ourselves from people on our trip back, and we found folks along the way were really not taking it seriously. We’ve decided not to risk going back this year because in Texas, the number of cases is very high. My husband and I are both cancer survivors, so our immune systems are compromised, and we don’t feel that we should risk our lives for the sake of a warm vacation. We will stay home in Thunder Bay with our families.”

The definition of snowbird is a ‘northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter,’ but what if the usual destination is not Texas or Florida, but rather, Costa Rica, India or Peru? I talked to international globe-trotter, Brian Cousineau for the answer.

“Well I’m not certain I’d call myself a snowbird, but I’m a fairly bold traveller,” he says wryly. Bold is an understatement. In the last few years, he’s trekked India, Nepal, Hawaii, Switzerland, Italy, Central and South America, often by himself. In fact, in 2019 his goal was Everest’s base camp in Nepal, which is an impressive feat of physical and emotional fortitude.

“This pandemic, and the havoc it can cause to travel plans, just can’t be accounted for. There are too many questions that one has little or no control over. Airlines or accommodations can be cancelled at any time, possible lockdown of a country, possibility of unavailability in returning to Canada as planned, possibility of skyrocketing travel arrangements to return to Canada, little or no health coverage, etc. So, I’m thinking it will be the first year in the last six where Canada will be my home for the winter months.”

Coming from a bold traveller such as Cousineau, that’s saying a lot. So what about domestic travel during the winter months? Surely, a few weeks in another part of Canada can’t hurt, right? I asked retired nurse, Irene Warmenhoven, her thoughts about this year’s late winter migration.

“Hans and I love to go to Victoria, BC, in the spring,” she says wistfully. “A few weeks in April and May for spring festivals and events is our custom. But not this year. The events we attend were cancelled and so was our flight, so we weren’t able to get away. I’m thinking it will be the same for 2021. The next time we go, we may drive instead of fly. It’s a long way, but perhaps safer.”

Alas, it seems COVID has trimmed the wings of even our toughest snowbirds. But winter is always followed by spring, and each year brings the hope of something new. As long as we have friends and family and warm, wooly socks, we’ll be fine, dreaming about the day when the sun returns, along with our many freedoms. Regardless, it seems 2020 will be remembered as the year Snowbirds Stayed Home.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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