What’s cottage country without cottagers?
By Hunter Cresswell The Gatineau Hills is cottage country for a lot of Ottawa residents, some of whom are getting ancy about when they will be able to travel to their secondary residences amidst the pandemic.
Despite the restrictions on non-essential trips between regions and MRCs within Quebec being lifted May 11, such travel from Ottawa to Gatineau is still prohibited, for now, which leaves May 24 weekend – usually a big weekend for cottagers to escape the city and kick off cottage season – in the lurch for the time being.
One Ottawa resident, who bought a four-season home on a lake in La Pêche last summer, hasn’t been able to even visit it to check that it hasn’t been burgled since the travel restrictions were put in place.
“Some indoor work I had planned had to be put off, and of course we could not do periodic checks on the place as required for insurance purposes. These are hardly serious issues compared to the effects of the pandemic, but we do wonder why non-stop travel simply to and from is forbidden, when we would take care not to encounter anyone in Quebec,” wrote a man, who didn’t wish for his name to be published out of concern about his empty home being vandalized or becoming a target for thieves, in an email to this reporter.
He continued to write that Quebec’s concern is probably about the logistics of ensuring and enforcing that such trips are indeed non-stop and that rural services aren’t overburdened by an influx of tourists.
“This is probably typical, I’m sure many in our position share these concerns,” he wrote.
The government of Quebec announced on April 29 that the restrictions on interregional travel within the province would start being lifted locally on May 11, but there’s been no official word since then on when traffic will be allowed to flow across the bridges from Ottawa to Gatineau without police stopping cars to ensure that the drivers are making essential trips only.
Since the restrictions were put in place last month, the MRC des Collines Police stopped over 20,000 vehicles at various checkpoints throughout the area, according to Police Sgt. Martin Fournel. Out of those cars, about 1,600 were told to turn around.
“It’s telling us people are complying with what the government is asking,” he said about those statistics.
Out of 1,600 drivers turned around, only one got a ticket. Fournel said that someone was stopped at a checkpoint in Val-des-Monts and an officer recognized the driver because they had already been told they can’t pass. The officer told the driver to turn around, which they did, but ended up using back roads to circumvent the checkpoint and go to the store they told officers was their destination. On intuition, the officer went to check that store where they saw the same driver and issued an infraction totalling about $1,500 with fees.
“It would have been possible to give more [tickets] than that [to more drivers], no doubt, but that was never the intention,” Fournel explained.
In recent months the MRC la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau Prefect Chantal Lamarche and local mayors were quoted all over the media, including in The Low Down, asking for cottagers to remain home.