Canadian snowbirds are packed, empty, and ready to head south, as long as U.S. border traffic doesn’t get them tangled up.

Ann Harkness is eager to begin her annual migration.

For 13 years, the retired teacher and her husband, Steve, made fun of the winter cold by packing up the car each fall and driving south to Winter Haven, Florida, from Kingston, Ontario, for the cold Canadian months through spring. the thaw tempted them to return home.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that routine. For the first time in more than a decade, the Harknesses stayed home for the winter.

But this year, with winter fast approaching and the US border finally opening up to non-essential travelers on Monday, Harkness and a million snowbirds like her are hearing the call of light again.

“We are very excited to be able to go this year. Absolutely, ”he said. “Everyone is fully vaccinated, we are ready to go. As soon as that border opens. “

Therein lies the problem. Canada’s snowbirds have been waiting for this day for 19 months, ever since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a call home in March 2020, when it became clear that the world was entering a coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, the US-Canada border has been closed to nonessential traffic, which, to their dismay, included snowbirds.

Some snowbirds found their way around border restrictions last winter by flying into the States and having their cars or RVs delivered there. Others, like Harkness, decided the risks were too great and stayed home.

But starting at 12:01 am on Monday, those restrictions will no longer exist. And thousands of snowbirds will line up at border crossings across the country.

US Customs and Border Protection will not say how much additional traffic they expect at their border crossings on Monday, nor will they say whether they have brought in additional staff to accommodate the expected crush of winter asylum seekers.

However, they will say they expect big increases in traffic volume and lengthy delays at the border.

“We ask that you be patient with our officers as we embark on reopening cross-border travel to help reduce wait times and long lines,” said CBP Field Operations Executive Matthew Davies during a briefing. , adding that travelers should plan more time in their schedules.

Harkness says he doesn’t want to wait hours at the closest junction, east of Gananoque. Their migration plan is to pack the car with supplies like paper towels and toilet paper, plus food they can’t get in the US – then wait.

“(It will) probably be the next day or the next day,” he said. “We will wait a bit to see what we heard about the border on the first day and then we will decide from there.”

Once that decision is made, they will hit the busiest (or driven) trail south with their snowbird counterparts, snaking through sinking latitudes, through the inevitable alignments in South Carolina, where the roads of four lanes narrow into two, until 24 hours later they reach Winter Haven.

There, they will begin to settle. It will be a little more work this time, after a year’s absence. They had someone guarding the house while they were away, but the “cuteness and touches” that make a house a home will have to come from them.

Ann will immediately begin to put the house in order. Steve, she says, will want to help out, but he’s really thinking about going golfing with the kids.

“Just get out of the house. Go golf and get out of my hair, ”he will tell you. Your golf days, of which there will be six months, will begin when you feel calm.

Even though there is a widespread sense of relief that the border is open and snowbirds can begin to make travel plans, there are still many who patiently preach.

“Most of the snowbirds I’ve been in communication with recently are running late, they don’t plan to go on November 8,” says Evan Rachkovsky, spokesman for the Canadian Snowbird Association.

“They will wait until later in the week or even wait a couple of weeks before they finish making the trip.”

Still, there will be those who brave the border chaos on Monday. That group is more likely to be RV owners, Rachkovsky said, and the reason is that, for those who live in their RV full time, their Canadian campgrounds generally close in late October, leaving the owners eager to get home. motorhomes to new homes in the south.

“We’ve heard that basically all over Canada, RVers have parked near the border in anticipation of crossing into the US right at 12:01 on November 8,” Rachkovsky said.

There are some new problems that winter migrants will have to deal with on their way down.

First, proof of vaccination will have to be shown at the border to enter the US, and at this point, a COVID-19 molecular test within the last 72 hours to return to Canada.

Rachkovsky also noted that with migration south so concentrated this year, hotels and motels along the road are likely to be a rare commodity, so pre-booking for an overnight on the road should be part of the list. travel plans of a snow bird.

Another downside: Several toll roads have moved to cashless payments since Canadians last drove those roads in large numbers: Rachkovsky advises picking up an E-ZPass transponder on the way down.

Like Harkness, Gary Bouck plans to reject cross-border lineups. Bouck, a retired DuPont worker, and his wife, Donna, stayed home last winter, the first time they had passed away on their annual trip to Daytona Beach in the past 10 years. Typically, they would hit the road to Florida from eastern Ontario in late October to begin their winter retreat.

This year, anticipating the crowding at the borders, he has a long-term vision. He will wait for the crowd, wait.

This year, it will start driving at the end of November.

She will miss a month of sun and sand, but she suspects it will be a much more relaxed trip south.

“I think there is going to be a big line on the border,” he said.

“We are in no rush to get there. November is not bad here. We had quite a good time last year. But we will be happy to get there. We will get to the beach, we will get into the sand. “

Canadian snowbirds like Harkness and Bouck spend three to six months out of every year south of the border, mostly in Florida, Arizona and California, pumping billions of dollars into the American economy.

In Arizona, they are worth an estimated $ 1.4 billion annually to that state’s economy. The 350,000 Canadians who winter in Florida spend an estimated $ 6.6 billion there in a year without a pandemic.

For Harkness, if he needed an omen that it was time to go, it was the sudden snowfall that hit Kingston and some other parts of Ontario last week. With six months of hot weather and golf ahead of him at the end of his trip south, that, he said, was a surefire encouragement to pack up the car and get it going.

“It was snowing two seconds ago,” he said Wednesday. “It was one of those fast, cold snows.

“(I thought,) ‘We should go. We should go ‘”.

Leave a Comment