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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 6, 2020
The other day while I looked into a variety store window, a woman struck up a conversation, as people will do to complete strangers in places like Annapolis Royal.
All she would tell me was that her name was Jane and that 30 years ago she had left Ontario for this historic spot on the Annapolis Basin because she wanted to live “in a more clear-headed place.”
When I asked what St. George Street, one of the town’s main arterials, would look like on past July Wednesdays, Jane said, “oh, much different.”
Then she began telling how, in the days of yore, it would be near impossible to get a parking spot across from Fort Anne, one of the town’s big tourist draws, how cars with licence plates from elsewhere in Canada and the United States would wagon-train down George Street and the sidewalks would be full of people.
On Wednesday, though, we had the block pretty much to ourselves. Out of curiosity, I walked a nine-block section, turning every now and then to look upon the same body of water that Champlain, more than 400 years ago, eyed, without once having to say pardon me to anyone.
Along the way, I counted 42 vehicles. Other than two from New Brunswick, every one of them bore a Nova Scotia plate.
This is what you would expect in the summer of the pandemic, with the Atlantic bubble barely opened.
When a couple with the alert eyes of tourists approached, I asked where they were from. Donna Charest said Bridgewater.
“We’re doing a little staycation,” added her husband Robert, who said they had been to Digby and, after leaving Annapolis Royal, intended to visit the Annapolis Valley before returning home.
What can we say about people like the Charests, folks like Merrill Hillier, Amanda Hatfield, and their kids Roman and Grace, of New Glasgow, who, out of their generosity of spirit, were doing much the same thing when I caught up with them in Lunenburg earlier this week?
Recently a friend with cottages along the province’s South Shore texted me with some good news. Once the pandemic hit, they had some 250 cottage nights cancelled by out-of-province guests from March through to September.
Now, thanks to the good people of Nova Scotia, they have refilled all of their open space from mid-June to mid-September. Their vacancy rate stands at zero, which is what it usually is during that peak period.
For all I know, some of those people were in Annapolis Royal, where, though the streets were quiet, I got no sense of COVID-19-related panic Wednesday.
Not in the Annapolis Royal Farmers and Traders Market, just shutting down for the day when I arrived, where manager Rebecca Black conceded that “this year they don’t anticipate seeing anywhere like the numbers of previous years,” but many vendors were “generally happy just to have any business.”
Not, as well, at Bainton’s Tannery Outlet & Mad Hatter Bookstore, where proprietor Holly Sanford sat on an Adirondack chair out near the sidewalk.
She and her husband Paul bought the business from the original owners in 2007. Last year, they added a wine bar out back.
Now, things are challenging enough that Paul, who had retired from commercial fishing, has returned to the water.
“At this point in the summer, you should have tourists from other countries, from out west because they have families here and a lot of people from the U.K.,” said Sanford, who is also an Annapolis Royal town councillor.
Yet, when I ask what the feeling is locally in light of the pandemic, she just smiled. “You know what, people here are kind and considerate," she said. "We are so fortunate to live in this town and to be able to have all of this space.”
The mood, truthfully, was lighter than expected everywhere I went.
At Sailor Bup’s Barbershop, reputedly the oldest continually operating barbershop on the continent, Terrance Randall seemed elated to have just trimmed his first beard under the province’s new barbering regulations.
Up around the block, at the Remax Banner Real Estate office, Realtor Lindsay Leavitt had just gotten a call from someone in Halifax looking for farmland. Friday, she was scheduled to virtually “show” a property in the area to an ex-Nova Scotian living in Bermuda.
“COVID has really put quality of life and space into perspective for a lot of people,” she said. “Rural Nova Scotia has plenty of it.”
Outside her office, the Folkers, David and Joan, from Hantsport, walked down St. George towards the water. They expected to be in the United States this time of year visiting their daughter, they told me, but the pandemic threw a wrench into that.
They could have headed for their cottage, where they usually summer vacation, but they also own a Boler trailer that they hadn’t used in years.
“We just thought we would hitch it up and do our bit to help the local economy,” Joan said.
From Annapolis Royal, they intended to make for Parrsboro and Shelburne. Who knows, David told me, maybe they would range as far as Cape Breton. They hadn’t been there in a while. Maybe this would be the year.