Downtown Ottawa is seen blanketed in smoke from wildfires on Monday, June 5, 2023. Raging wildfires and smoky skies across much of Canada have put a damper on travel and tourism plans this summer resulting in cancelled plans and closed businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby
By Emily Blake
Raging wildfires and smoky skies across much of Canada have put a damper on travel this summer, resulting in cancelled plans and closed businesses.
“We have had a few conversations with our members and we’re already seeing domestic and international visitors cancelling trips,” said Madison Simmons with the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.
Simmons pointed to a 2018 study by Visit California, which found that during the state’s most destructive wildfire season on record, 11 per cent of potential travellers cancelled their trips to the state, representing a loss of about $20 million that July.
The Ontario tourism group released a study last month suggesting leisure travel in the province was set to grow after being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
Simmons said businesses in the northern part of the province, particularly outfitters and outdoor tours, are most affected.
The wildfires are adding to challenges posed by high gas prices and border delays, she added.
“We’re still facing a cost-of-living and cost-of-travel issue. It’ll put a further strain on tourism insurance.”
Canada’s travel and tourism industry was set to almost fully recover from the pandemic this year, the World Travel and Tourism Council said in mid-May.
But Canada’s emergency preparedness minister warned on Monday that 2023 is now on track to be the worst year on record for fires.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said that as of Thursday, there were 428 fires actively burning across the country, 231 of which were out of control. Some 43,000 square kilometres has burned so far this year.
In Nova Scotia, the number of fires has already about doubled the yearly average. The largest fire in the province’s history is currently burning near Barrington Lake, which has forced out thousands from Shelburne County and destroyed 150 structures.
Daniel Khan is vice president of the Shelburne and Area Chamber of Commerce and owns Roseway River Cottages. He said the business is one of many outside the evacuation area that has opened its doors to evacuees.
“We’re trying to do our best in terms of managing both the immediate need of people who are local and also our businesses in terms of accommodations with bookings that we have,” he said.
Khan said many of bookings until early July are from returning guests who have family in the area while tourists who had planned to explore the province have cancelled. He said it remains to be seen how the fire will affect tourism for the remainder of the summer.
The province recently lifted restrictions on travel and activities in the woods, including hiking and camping, in all areas except for Shelburne County. A provincewide ban on burning remains, including campfires and fireworks.
Quebec, which officials said is experiencing its worst wildfire season, has also prohibited access to forests in several regions. The fires and restrictions have caused many wilderness outfitters to shut down during one of their busiest times of year.
Dominic Dugré, president of industry association Fédération des pourvoiries du Québec, said of the more than 500 outfitters who operate in Quebec’s forests, 350 have been forced to close.
Most affected by wildfires in the province are the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nord-du-Québec regions.
“We’re surrounded by forest so it’s our playground,” said Nancy Arpin, general manager of Tourisme Val-d’Or.
She noted Val d’Or is near La Vérendrye wildlife reserve and Route 117, the Trans Canada Highway Northern Route, which is on pre-alert for closure due to smoke.
In northern Saskatchewan, wildfires have forced an Indigenous tourism conference to reschedule.
Candice Evans-Waite is the project coordinator for Westside Indigenous Experience Inc., a non-profit that supports tourism operators in northwest Saskatchewan.
“I feel very shocked and saddened. I don’t know what’s it’s going to be like going back home,” Evans-Waite, whose home community is Buffalo Narrows, said of the wildfires. “I think our landscape has drastically changed.”
“It’s been a huge impact on our industry as well as our communities.”
Evans-Waite said around 75 people were expected to attend the symposium in Beauval this week, which would have included a cultural demonstration, lake tours and an artisan market. She said the group also planned to share a tourism strategy it has worked on for six months.
“It was a hard call,” she said of the cancellation.
The symposium has been rescheduled for September and Evans-Waite is expecting it to be bigger and better, with a focus on authentic Indigenous experiences.
Keith Henry, chief executive officer of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said in 2019 Indigenous tourism contributed nearly $2 billion in revenue to Canada’s economy and supported roughly 40,000 jobs.
“This is a very challenging time for the industry,” he said, adding the organization is concerned about environmental impacts. “We were looking forward to a very strong summer this year driven with significant new domestic interest but the wildfires are really having an impact on the consciousness of consumer spending.”
Many other outdoor events and businesses across Canada have been cancelled or are taking precautions due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke.
Canada’s Wonderland said the park is providing KN95 masks to employees who request them as well as additional breaks and advice on steps to take if they or visitors feel unwell. The Toronto Zoo said it is has put precautions in place for animals, including access to the indoors and additional ventilation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.
— With files from Rosa Saba and Sammy Hudes in Toronto and Jacob Serebin in Montreal.
Regulator rules in favour of Trans Mountain route deviation
Workers place pipe during construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on farmland, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary
The Canada Energy Regulator has approved Trans Mountain Corp.’s application to modify the pipeline’s route, a decision that could spare the government-owned pipeline project from an additional nine-month delay.
The regulator made the ruling Tuesday, just one week after hearing oral arguments from Trans Mountain and a B.C. First Nation that opposes the route change.
It didn’t release the reasons for its decision Tuesday, saying those will be publicized in the coming weeks.
By siding with Trans Mountain Corp., the regulator is allowing the pipeline company to alter the route slightly for a 1.3-kilometre stretch of pipe in the Jacko Lake area near Kamloops, B.C., as well as the construction method for that section.
Trans Mountain Corp. had said it ran into engineering difficulties in the area related to the construction of a tunnel, and warned that sticking to the original route could result in up to a nine-month delay in the pipeline’s completion, as well as an additional $86 million more in project costs.
Trans Mountain has been hoping to have the pipeline completed by early 2024.
But Trans Mountain’s application was opposed by the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation, whose traditional territory the pipeline crosses and who had only agreed to the originally proposed route.
In their regulatory filing, the First Nation stated the area has “profound spiritual and cultural significance” to their people, and that they only consented to the pipeline’s construction with the understanding that Trans Mountain would minimize surface disturbances by implementing specific trenchless construction methods.
The Trans Mountain pipeline is Canada’s only pipeline system transporting oil from Alberta to the West Coast. Its expansion, which is currently underway, will boost the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 300,000 bpd currently.
The pipeline — which was bought by the federal government for $4.5 billion in 2018 after previous owner Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. threatened to scrap the pipeline’s planned expansion project in the face of environmentalist opposition and regulatory hurdles — has already been plagued by construction-related challenges and delays.
Its projected price tag has since spiralled: first to $12.6 billion, then to $21.4 billion and most recently to $30.9 billion (the most recent capital cost estimate, as of March of this year).
The federal government has already approved a total of $13 billion in loan guarantees to help Trans Mountain secure the financing to cover the cost overruns.
Trans Mountain Corp. has blamed its budget problems on a variety of factors, including inflation, COVID-19, labour and supply chain challenges, flooding in B.C. and unexpected major archeological discoveries along the route.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.
CP NewsAlert: Quebec police say three fishers are dead after boat sinks
MONTREAL — Quebec provincial police say three people are dead after a fishing boat sunk off the province’s Lower North Shore.
Police say six people were aboard the boat out of Blanc Sablon, Que., when it ran into trouble around midnight.
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