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a car travelling across Canada
And I would drive 5,000 kilometres. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.

Driving from Halifax to Vancouver at the beginning of the second wave of COVID-19, what could go wrong?

Earlier this year, I received a phone call from my mom. She said that she was planning on moving, but this time she wanted to move across the country to British Columbia. 

Now, this wasn’t something out of the ordinary —  it’s a common conversation she and I have about moving but it never ended up happening. Until now.

Over the course of a few months, she showed more and more interest in moving back to British Columbia from Nova Scotia, where she had been living for the past three years. I somewhat scoffed at the idea until she got a solid job offer in B.C. 

Now, this was already a pretty stressful move, but the timing couldn’t be worse. The drive was meant to begin just as the second wave of COVID-19 was beginning to hit. Here’s what that experience was like, from Halifax to Vancouver.

Atlantic Bubble

As a disclaimer, my trip began in Ottawa, but my mom began her drive out east. 

Canada’s eastern provinces have had the lowest number of cases across Canada, except for the Territories, thanks to the very strict COVID-19 protocols on who is allowed into the ‘Atlantic bubble.’ On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to get out which made things much easier for my mom. 

After driving for seven hours, my mom arrived at a hotel in Edmundston, N.B. When she entered the doors, she noticed no one aside from the staff were wearing masks in either the hotel or the restaurant she visited for dinner. Mandatory masks were necessary in Nova Scotia, but New Brunswick actually didn’t make masks mandatory in public spaces until October.

Kaitlyn Evelyn, a first-year sociology student at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick went through a similar process of moving to the east coast during the pandemic like my mom.

In order to enter the bubble at the time, Evelyn had to fill out specific paperwork, show border control the papers and proof of enrolment in order to enter the province. Her parents weren’t allowed to help her move, and immediately had to leave after everything was taken care of. 

“I had to move in by myself, they couldn’t help me move in, they couldn’t even get out of the car,” she said. “They couldn’t stop anywhere, they had to get out of the province right away.”

After her 14-day quarantine, she began to explore the province. The main thing she noted was a lack of masks. 

“At first I found it really weird because when I first got out of isolation, I was wearing my mask everywhere since I was used to the Ontario rules of ‘just wear it everywhere’. But when I went into stores, there was no one wearing masks, it was super weird.”

Services were still mostly open, and it wasn’t until an outbreak at a Moncton retirement facility on Oct. 6 that the province quickly shut down. 

“The mask policy came so late. In Ontario, it was so early, but New Brunswick just made it happen. Even now Ontario’s cases are on the rise but if that happened here, the government would be quick to shut down and go on lockdown,” she said.

Quebec

Quebec was a relatively short journey for both my mom and Evelyn. From Ottawa to the New Brunswick border, it’s about a seven hour journey. Neither person stopped in the province, but noticed the emptiness driving on the highway. 

“It was just us and the truckers,” Evelyn joked.

Ontario

My mom got to Ottawa on Oct. 5, and we took off the next day. After packing and repacking my stuff in the extremely loaded car, I said hello to my dog and got her settled in my lap before beginning the drive. 

The first stop was Sudbury, a five hour drive which is a nice way to ease into a long road trip. That being said, when you’re driving with a dog, a five hour drive will inevitably become lengthened. 

We arrived around dinner time, so we went to a local restaurant to grab takeout. Everyone was wearing their masks, although there were a few noses peeking out, classic. Hand sanitizer was readily available as well. 

The hotel we stayed at (and all the ones that followed) had closed their restaurants except for breakfast. Everything was wrapped in plastic and a limited amount of guests were allowed to grab food at a time. 

Once we ate, we set out early in the morning as we had the longest drive of the trip, an 11 hour drive without stops. Driving from Sudbury to Thunder Bay is absolutely stunning. Taking in the views of Lake Superior with the red and orange changing leaves is a sight to behold. 

This was, of course, interrupted by way too much construction, which slowed us down considerably. 

Wawa, Ont. is known for its giant goose monument.
Photo: Siena Domaradzki-Kim/Fulcrum.

We made a brief stop in Sault Ste. Marie for lunch, and another short stop in Wawa at the giant goose to let my dog out. Unfortunately, because of all the stops and delays, the already lengthy drive became borderline unbearable. 

We arrived at around 10 p.m. and briefly drove around the town. The city was quiet, not many people walking around which I suppose was to be expected due to both COVID-19 and the time. Ontario has pretty strict mask policies that were enforced at the hotel, at the front desk, the attendant asked the person behind us, when we were checking in, to pull their mask over their nose.

It’s the small things.

We went to bed after grabbing takeout once again, getting ready to finally leave the province after driving for almost 24 hours.

Manitoba

Winnipeg was the next stop, finally exiting Ontario and finishing half of the entire journey. As we entered the province, it almost immediately flattened out to the prairies I was familiar with. 

Grasslands with small groves of trees populated the side of the highway showing an amazing view of the sun setting, stretching all across the horizon. We got to Winnipeg just before the sun fully set. 

We had initially planned on meeting up with one of my mom’s friends, but we forgot to check if we were allowed until we got there. Turns out Manitoba has a strict 14-day quarantine for most people entering the province, the only province outside of the Atlantic to do so. So instead of visiting, we stayed in, ordered room service, and fell asleep.

The next morning we got a bit of time in the morning before we ran off, so I went to the nearest Starbucks to grab a pickup order of coffee, which is where I noticed that in the city most people were wearing masks even when walking around. 

Manitoba has mandatory masks in public facilities and transport, but not in stores or coffee shops. So it was quite a shock to see, especially looking back. But I grabbed my coffee, keeping note of this, I went to write a little before hitting the road once again to Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan

Here is where my mom decided to complain about driving through the prairies. 

“It’s so boring, there’s nothing to look at,” she said. “It’s so easy to lose focus on the road.” 

I never saw this. While the prairies are not necessarily as awe-inspiring as driving by Lake Superior or through the Rockies, the prairies have their own beauty. Fields of yellow and green continued as far as the eye can see, with the grass rippling in the wind. 

Every now and then you’ll see a small farm with their cattle and grain silos with the names of the small towns listed on them. I was born and grew up in Saskatchewan, so it was super nostalgic. Every now and then fields of white from the salt plains filled our view with electric blue water that made it all the more shocking.

We stopped in Swift Current to meet my aunt. Saskatchewan doesn’t have a lockdown policy, and didn’t have a mask policy until Nov. 19, —  it was strange to walk around and see not a single person in sight with a mask. Some coffee shops, select stores, and everyone on the streets weren’t wearing their masks.

As they went for lunch, I worked inside the car to look after my dog where I watched people walking around mask-free. Social distancing was still in effect and signs signalled that limited amounts of people were allowed in places but the cafe my mom visited and one I went to afterwards both didn’t have socially distanced tables inside. There was also no outdoor sitting. 

The coffee shop I went to was relatively small but cute, yet none of the three baristas wore masks. They stood behind a familiar plastic shield that outfits every place now, but it was strange to actually see faces in public after so long only seeing masks. We didn’t stay for much longer, getting back on the road to make it to Medicine Hat for dinner.

Alberta

We drove pretty much straight through Alberta and stopped in Medicine Hat for a night. Alberta is an interesting mix of prairie and mountain, which also makes it windy as all hell. 

Alberta added more restrictions to businesses on Nov. 27, but at the time businesses were open and masks were recommended but not mandatory in places. Several stores that I saw implemented their own mandatory mask policies but places like gas stations we visited didn’t have anything. 

Medicine Hat is in an enhanced area, meaning they have a couple more restrictions like the restricted access, but driving along the southern route was more open. The drive itself was very quiet, not a lot of traffic on the roads as we headed towards the Rockies and into Fernie.

British Columbia

Fernie is a relatively small skiing town perched in the Rockies near the Alberta border. It truly gives off the vibe of an alpine village, but unfortunately, there was no snow to cement that image. Instead, it was raining when we arrived — very on brand for British Columbia. 

People wore masks indoor, but not outside. We stopped for the night before making our way to Nelson.

I’d never been to Nelson before, but I can guarantee that I’ll be returning. It’s quite small, the downtown is only a few blocks in area, but the location, the atmosphere, everything was great. 

We stopped by a coffee shop, where everyone had masks but again weren’t socially distanced with tables. All the stores also had masks and hand sanitizer available but didn’t have signage for limits of people allowed in.

The streets were relatively full compared to even the larger cities I had visited, and it’s also where I saw someone walking their cat on a harness (not of importance but definitely loved it). We stayed in a hotel right by the lake, which featured a beautiful sunset. We stayed the night before continuing our trek through the Rockies.

The next day we got up and left a bit later because of a snowstorm in the mountains. There was still a bit of snow on the roads and coating the trees, but we managed to get through it no problem. After a few hours we entered the Okanagan; orchards and farmer’s markets line the road, so of course we had to stop by one.

The Farmer’s Market in Okanagan, B.C.
Photo: Siena Domaradzki-Kim/Fulcrum.

We arrived in Penticton and immediately went to check-in. The hotel had some of the strictest COVID-19 policies I’d seen so far, with gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks available before you even entered the hotel. Everyone was forced to social distance, and in the morning employees served you complimentary coffee or tea to reduce the amount of people touching appliances. 

We stayed for two days to relax a little bit before completing the trip, which was great except for my mom getting a stomach bug at the same time. So I became the errand girl, running around to grab any food or stuff that we may need. 

Being back in B.C., I decided it only seemed right to go and grab sushi for one of our lunches, so I ordered and went downtown to pick it up. 

When I got to the place, several groups of high school students and workers were gathered in a small courtyard out front, doing their best to social distance. Some had masks, others didn’t, and a couple girls were dispensing hand sanitizer to their friend groups. 

The street itself was pretty busy, people almost brushing shoulders to pass each other on the sidewalk. I remarked this to the receptionist, and she stated her surprise on how Penticton didn’t have an outbreak with the lack of social distancing. 

“The summer was especially busy, we got everyone from the mainland [who] normally go elsewhere to holiday, so it’s crazy that nothing bad happened,” she said.

Finally we were on the final stretch, Penticton to Vancouver. We made a brief stop in my previous hometown of Abbotsford to drop stuff off at my grandparents house before driving to downtown Vancouver. 

We got to the hotel kind of late and, of course, it was raining once again. We scurried into the hotel where a family of people walked in with their noses dangling over their masks. 

After settling in, I quickly annoyed my mom with a Facetime call with a couple of friends. We stayed in the hotel for a couple of days while my mom sorted out the last minute deals of the place which meant we would be hotel-ridden for the first week of quarantine which weirdly worked out. 

I decided to make the most of it, doing as much takeout coffee and orders as possible and walking around the city. Vancouver is normally much busier than when I was there, but it was still pretty busy. Coffee shops were a bit empty but restaurants and shops were still filled with shoppers, especially on the weekend. 

It was a mix of mask wearers and not wearers on the streets, but most indoor places had a mask policy, which wasn’t a requirement until November and is now punishable with a $230 fine. 

The possession date for my mom’s new place was delayed by a week, so we ended up moving hotels again before going through with the move. The movers and internet guy all showed up with masks, which definitely made things feel a bit safer as we navigated a smaller space. After three days, the move was complete and I got to see a couple of friends before leaving to go back to Ontario.

After almost two weeks on the road and two whole months away from Ottawa, I finally got on my flight to get back home. Vancouver International Airport was relatively empty compared to the usual bustle, which meant everyone had a chance to social distance. However, the airplane was a different story. 

Keep in mind I have flown during the pandemic twice, to Halifax and back to Ottawa to be with my mom earlier this year, so I had some idea of the pandemic precautions airlines were taking. This included at least one seat between people and alternating rows of people, which meant limited seating. 

The flight from Vancouver to Ottawa had many more people, with some rows having three people side by side. I was lucky and had a gap in the middle. 

I landed in Ottawa, picked up my luggage and then went home to relax, preparing for my self-imposed two-week quarantine before I could go back into my usual routine of still not leaving my house.