P.E.I. couple Zack Metcalfe and Pam Arsenault could think of no better way to celebrate their first anniversary on Friday than with a trip to the mainland.
Normally, a trip to Nova Scotia wouldn’t seem special but Friday was no ordinary day — it marked the first time people could take non-essential trips out of province since health restrictions were put in place in mid-March around the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“Everything happened in the course of the last week and a half. As soon as I heard the (Atlantic Canada) travel bubble was opening we had to book the ferry,’’ Metcalfe told The Guardian shortly before boarding the MV Confederation at the terminal in Wood Islands.
Metcalfe was also going over to do some work. He writes for Rural Delivery, a Nova Scotia magazine that covers rural life in the region.
Metcalfe said making reservations on the ferry was the easy part. Finding a spot to camp in Cape Breton was much more challenging. Only the private campgrounds are operating.
There were about four lanes of traffic in the terminal for the 9:30 a.m. crossing. The 6:30 a.m. crossing was sold out. The ferries are operating at 50 per cent capacity. Anyone coming off the ferry in Wood Islands was required to stop at a mobile screening area set up at the former weigh scales. It was being supervised by Island EMS.
Meanwhile, around two dozen cars were lined up on the P.E.I. side of the Confederation Bridge at 11:45 p.m. Thursday, awaiting the 12:01 a.m. beginning of the Atlantic bubble.
Christine Arsenault and Grant Clark were waiting in Borden-Carleton with their camper hitched to their large white pickup at 11:30 p.m., set to head to Shediac, N.B.
On the New Brunswick side, vehicles began lining up for the bridge a good hour before the 12:01 a.m. bubble opening, trickling into the checkpoint a few at a time.
A Highway Safety truck was posted at the checkpoint entry, lights flashing. Vehicles flowed past in a slow-moving ant-trail carrying tired children, happy dogs, luggage and bicycles, campers and anticipation.
The Atlantic Canada travel bubble will allow residents of the four East Coast provinces to move freely without a 14-day quarantine, although different provinces had different criteria for what people needed to enter.
For those taking the ferry from P.E.I. to Nova Scotia, for example, those arriving off the ferry into the screening area would only need proof of residency.
The extra protocal gave Nancy Fall of Crapaud, who was taking the ferry with her husband, Ken, a bit of anxiety.
“It’s scary and Nova Scotia just got some new cases,’’ Fall said, adding that she was going to see her mother who lives in Nova Scotia for the first time since December. “I have to get through the whole apprehension of it all.’’
Rosie Buchanan of Cardigan couldn’t wait to board the ferry with her daughter, Hannah.
“I married a man from Pictou (N.S.) ... so having this (travel bubble) is just wonderful,’’ Buchanan said. “I have been waiting for this for so long. We’re so excited.’’
While traffic was certainly steady at both ends of the province, it wasn’t as busy as many thought it would be.
Chad Ceretti, owner of Ceretti’s Grocery and Hardware in Borden-Carleton, said he’s happy to see the increase in traffic.
“It’s steady, but any more than three would be steadier than it’s been,’’ Ceretti said, adding that there was an initial surge in traffic by his house around midnight, but by the time the store opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, it had slowed.
Bonnie Thompson, who manages the Borden-Carleton Shell station, said Friday was just like any other day; just a little bit easier.
“Everybody’s really friendly and very kind,’’ Thompson said. “They’re all struggling with the same thing in their own province."
Judy MacKenzie at Howatt’s Shell station, about five kilometres from the bridge, said she turned on the pumps at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
“I found at 5:30 to 7, a steady stream heading to Borden,’’ MacKenzie said.
Glenda Cooper at Cooper’s Red & White in Belfast said she noticed a slight increase in traffic.
“Maybe a little bit,’’ Cooper said. “Just a little bit.’’
Cindy Mitton and Derek Brown of Fredericton, N.B., made a last-minute decision to come to P.E.I. on Friday to watch Nick Doneff perform at the Trailside Café in Mount Stewart. They found entry into the province very seamless and friendly and neither was the least bit apprehensive about COVID-19.
“We feel that the Atlantic provinces have done well containing it and controlling it,’’ Brown said. “Maybe if there were more known cases I’d be more apphensive. We were happy to come over and enjoy the Island hospitality. It (feels) nice to feel some normalcy.’’
“It feels great,’’ added Mitton.
With files by Alison Jenkins, local journalism initiative reporter, and Jim Day