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The life of Florida leisure that many retired Canadians have come to know and love as they travel south each winter will be different this year, as they find themselves stuck in Canada due to COVID-19.
It’s going to be a much different winter for seniors like Peggy Jewkes. Before 2020, she had only missed travelling once in the 23 years she’s been wintering in Florida.
The 76-year-old lives in Truro, N.S., during the warmer months and in Largo, Fla., during the winter, where she starts each day with a walk along Indian Rocks Beach.
But as tempting as it may be, Jewkes says she and her friends who fly south — affectionately known in Canada as snowbirds — remain determined to not risk travel, even if it means missing the warm Florida sunshine.
“I’m going to miss it this year, terribly. But I don’t want to go because of COVID-19, and I don’t think it’s safe to go,” she says.
Deciding to stay put
Jewkes is friends with fellow snowbird Anne Alton, who will also remain at home in Belfast, P.E.I., this winter. The two have a community of friends they’ll be leaving behind in Florida and say this is what they’ll miss most as they look ahead to their first winter of ice and snow in years.
“I’ll miss so many things about life in Florida. We golf, we go dancing, we play shuffleboard and happy hour is a blast down there, too,” says Jewkes.
Alton has been travelling south each winter since retiring in 2012 and also calls Largo home. It’s where she and countless other snowbirds partake in clubhouse activities and venture out to enjoy the beach, restaurants, bowling and so many other activities that feel well-earned after years of winter dues.
Despite these draws, Alton says it was an easy decision to remain in Canada this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other political factors, including the upcoming November election. She feels that if President Donald Trump wins a second presidential term, it might mean leaving Florida forever for her.
“I’m concerned. If it stays the same, I won’t have too much trouble deciding to stop going. I’d already considered this but didn’t want to let somebody like that keep me enjoying my winter down there. But if he stays, I might only go back for one more year to get my place ready to sell,” she says.
Concerns during COVID-19
The political landscape of the United States is among the concerns snowbirds are grappling with as they stick it out in Canada this winter.
Newfoundland snowbirds Lydia and Larry O’Quinn are another couple who travel down to Largo each year, where they’ve rented the same condo for nearly a decade. They’ve become heavily involved in their Lakeview of Largo condo community, where they volunteer on its clubhouse committee, organize and play shuffleboard, cards and bingo.
Lydia says her main concern is having to face winter at home in Corner Brook after so many years without cold or snow. It will be a big change for the couple, who maintain an active lifestyle during the winter down south.
“My husband intends on cross-country skiing this winter, so I guess I’ll have to pick up snowshoeing or something since I don’t much like skiing,” she laughs.
Jewkes’ Largo home is located in a small seniors’ park. She and Alton say they both don’t worry about their homes, thanks to friends who check up on things and ensure everything is ship-shape.
Jewkes says she feels less worried about her Florida property than she does about the prospect of shovelling snow.
“I looked out this morning and saw frost on my neighbour’s roof. I’m really not looking forward to the cold weather,” she says. “But I have lots of friends here too and will keep busy. I’m disappointed I can’t go, but I’ll find something to do here.”