Thousands of Canadians Head for the Southern United States Again
With the border opening to tourists, thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” are on their way to Florida, Arizona and California with campers in tow.,
Thousands of Canadians head for the southern United States again.
- Nov. 8, 2021Updated 2:22 p.m. ET
It had been a decade since Judy and Wayne Peters had spent the winter in their home country.
The pandemic forced the couple to hunker down last year in their hometown, Kelowna, British Columbia, instead of driving to Arizona for five months of hiking, golfing and playing pickle ball in the sunshine, an annual pilgrimage for them since 2010.
On Monday, the Peterses, fully vaccinated, were starting to pack up their cobalt gray BMW for the 1,520-mile journey south to Yuma, just after the U.S.-Canadian land border reopened to nonessential travel.
“It was a mild winter here, so that worked out in our favor,” said Mr. Peters, 69, speaking from Canada. “But we are looking forward to being in a nice warm environment again with our American friends.”
Hundreds of thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” like the Peterses, typically retirees, flock to the United States each year for the winter, often staying in RV resorts and mobile-home parks with swimming pools, golf courses and other amenities.
Now that pandemic travel restrictions have been lifted, thousands are already on their way to Florida, Arizona and California, among other warm destinations, with campers and boats in tow.
“For the Canadians coming across the border now, they are so excited, they have called ahead to let us know,” said Pat Tuckwell, president of the board of Country Roads RV Village, an upscale park in Yuma, halfway between Phoenix and San Diego, where the Peterses own a manufactured home.
About 40 percent of Country Roads’s 1,290 properties are occupied by Canadians. Last year, that number plunged. Only those willing to fly to the United States could come.
“Everyone is saying, it’ll be so wonderful to see each other, talk to each other again, like when their grandkids tell them they can’t wait to go back to school to see their friends,” Ms. Tuckwell said.
Tickets are going fast for the first dinner-and-dance event of the season at Country Road’s newly renovated ballroom this weekend, she said.
Activity rooms for woodcarving, pottery-making and quilting have reopened for the first time since March 2020. Hundreds will be gathering for bingo nights and a weekly church service, as they did before the pandemic.
“Last winter was surreal: empty streets, organized activities canceled, common areas shut down,” said Kristi Getz, an American at the RV resort. Now, she said, “Our poker games are on again, awaiting the return of the Canadians.”
Added her husband, Timothy, “No one does happy hour like our Canadian friends!”
A big draw for Canadians is the ability to visit a nearby Mexican city, Los Algodones, for medical care, massages, manicures and entertainment at bargain prices.
Because they are older, snowbirds were particularly vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. Many cities, including Yuma, had high infection and hospitalization rates.
Nearly one million Canadians pumped $1 billion into the Arizona economy in 2019. Last year, that number plummeted to 257,000, who spent $325 million.
With borders reopening and vaccination rates high, the Arizona Office of Tourism is bullish about this season, said Becky Blaine, the office’s deputy director.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said they expect heavy traffic and delays at border crossings for a while, because agents will need to verify that travelers are vaccinated.
But that is not deterring couples like the Peterses. “We’re ready to enjoy what the United States has to offer,” Mr. Peters said.