Similkameen tourist destination turns away Alberta visitors amid COVID-19 travel directive

The operator of a heritage site in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley said they turned away Alberta tourists on Saturday to comply with B.C.’s non-essential travel advisory.

Chris Mathieson, general manager of The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos, B.C., said it was the right thing to do, despite financial hardships the site has faced under crippling COVID-19 restrictions.

“One of our first days open, some of the first people through the door were from Alberta, not here in the-long term, just visiting,” Mathieson told Global News.

Read more: Waterwheel turns again at historic Keremeos Grist Mill

“They felt comfortable doing so because, in Alberta, the rules are a little different, but we as politely as we could turned them away.”

B.C. implemented new travel restrictions in late April, which split the province into three zones: the Lower Mainland, the Interior/North and Vancouver Island, in response to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncontrolled spread of variants of concern.

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RCMP travel-related roadblocks have been set up at select major B.C. highways during specific times.

Road signs are up at the Alberta/B.C. border reminding travellers that all inter-provincial travel at this time should be essential.

“People from any province or territory are subject to the same travel restrictions as everyone in B.C,” the B.C. government says on its website.

Read more: B.C. RCMP reveal locations of COVID-19 travel checkpoints

“We know we need the money, but the truth is, we all should be staying close to home right now, and we don’t want to be a part of making it easy for people,” Mathieson said.

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“When we have elderly volunteers on site, we’ve got staff, some of which are obviously at increased risk and as a small community itself that sees a lot of tourists, we all need to be hyper aware to protect ourselves.”

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Mathieson said the Alberta tourists were “mildly displeased” at being refused service but complied and left the premises.

“I have a feeling that if they’re traveling right now, through the Okanagan, they’re probably finding resistance in other places as well. I hope that everyone else is being as polite as we are, but we don’t want to make it too easy. At least not right now,” he said.

Read more: COVID-19: Haida Gwaii asking visitors to stay away until at least July 1

“Hopefully, the restrictions will come up soon, and then we’ll welcome those people with open arms.”

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The Grist Mill operates a 13-site campground which backs onto Keremeos Creek, and out-of-town bookings were also cancelled.

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“We were lucky that it was early in the season, it was in the order of dozens rather than hundreds [of cancellations] but it was still several thousand dollars to go out early in the season,” Mathieson said.

“We’re desperate for cash, it was tough, but, fortunately, locals stepped up pretty quick and started to fill a lot of those spots. So we’re pretty happy about that.”

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At the Grist Mill and Gardens, visitors can explore a working 1877 waterwheel-powered flour mill, enjoy lunch in the kitchen, browse in the unique gift shop, or stay overnight at the creek side RV campground.

B.C. has indicated that travel restrictions could be lifted as early as June 15.

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