Quebec's vacation spots want to welcome back Montrealers - but are nervous

If you ask the operators of Quebec’s tourist destinations how they feel about the idea of reopening to visitors from the province's urban centres, especially Montreal, most will have trouble summing it up.

On one hand, their businesses depend partly on road-trippers from the city. Some are excited at the thought that, with international travel mostly shut down, Quebecers could even rediscover the beauty of their own province.

On the other hand, Montreal’s COVID infection rate is astronomically higher than that of the further-flung regions, and many locals are afraid.

“Obviously everyone is scared, because if they start opening the [borders]… it’s like a double-edged knife,” said Frederick Boucher, the chef at the restaurant of Reford Gardens (otherwise known as the Jardins de Métis), a popular public garden just north of Rimouski.

“We want to them to come, but we don’t want them to come, because we don’t have that [many] cases.”

After two months of checkpoints and travel restrictions, people from Montreal will now be increasingly free to travel throughout the province.

Today was the first day the Bas-Saint-Laurent, where Reford Gardens is located, was opened to people from elsewhere in Quebec. Checkpoints were also lifted to the Gaspé and les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Charlevoix and the Outaouais.

There have been 43 cases of COVID-19 cases so far in the Bas-Saint-Laurent. A recent Léger Marketing poll shows that 80 percent of people outside of Montreal would prefer that Montreal would stay within the metro area.

It’s been a strange and anxiety-ridden spring for people at Reford Gardens for the opposite reason, too—they have no way or knowing what kind of business they’ll have this summer.

Normally, the site welcomes 60,000 to 100,000 visitors each year. So far this season, the world-class cooking staff at its restaurant have been making meals only for the local food bank.

“It’s really just to help and keep people fed and keep our staff busy,” said Boucher.

At the same time, the gardens have been scrambling to keep up with online orders for garden supplies and plants. The gardens are famous for their landscaping, with over 3,500 types of plants.

Director Alexander Reford—whose great-grandmother first created the gardens—says that right now he’s focused on learning exactly when the business will be allowed to operate.

“We’re anxious to get…the green light rom the government so we can plan our actual opening,” he said.

But there’s still little certainty about what will happen after that. The site will have new rules for the season, including meals for takeout rather than dining in, and it’s impossible to predict how many visitors it will get. 

Maybe Quebecers will flock to the various corners of their province on vacation, now that other destinations are off-limits. Or maybe they won’t.

“We may have fewer cars in the parking lot, and fewer people in the site, but what won’t change—the plants are going to be there, that’s for sure,” said Reford. 

“They’re going to be in bloom, whether it’s me seeing them or a hundred people seeing them.”

It’s hard not to like the concept of Quebecers seeking out beautiful spots close to home this summer, wanting a refuge from the city and the pandemic, people said. But they just hope everyone can manage to do it very, very carefully.

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