'Doesn’t make any sense': Arts and culture sites pushing to reopen before Step 3

Arts and culture sites are among those businesses that will remain closed when Waterloo Region enters Step 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan on Monday.

But some local facilities are hoping that changes so that they can reopen before Step 3.

THEMUSUEM in Kitchener has opened two new exhibits, including a feathered dinosaur exhibit and Sonica, a sound exhibit - but the public hasn't been able to see either yet.

“It’s been sitting here. All the dinosaurs have been patiently waiting for the guests to arrive,” said David Marskell, THEMUSEUM's chief executive.

Pre-pandemic, THEMUSEUM’s capacity was around 800 patrons.

Marskell said they plan to cap it at much less than that when they’re given the green light to open their doors.

Right now, a reopening won't happen until the region reaches Step 3.

“What we had planned for is about 100 spaced out over five floors,” said Marskell.

Marskell is among many in the tourism industry hoping the province makes an exception to allow them to open sooner.

“Doesn’t make any sense,” said Doug Wilson, president of the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory.

He argues their spacious facility can be just as safe as other businesses allowed to operate in Step 2.

Staff with the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory said they have only been open for six weeks so far this year. They said last summer, after the first lockdown, they were successful and they want to do the same thing again, sooner.

Wilson said the conservatory installed plexiglass barriers, signage for one-way traffic flow and timed-entry tickets to control capacity.

Like many galleries and museums, the conservatory has tried to adapt with virtual installations, but it's been a challenge.

“You can’t expect to replace the experience of walking through a tropical butterfly conservatory but showing someone a photograph,” said Wilson.

According to the Tourism Association Of Ontario, these types of businesses can't afford to wait any longer.

“This is our peak season as a tourism and culture industry. That could be a huge amount of money that’s lost,” said Christopher Bloore, CEO of the Tourism Association of Ontario.

The association said about one in five Ontario tourism businesses, out of about 200,000, remain closed.

The association has been lobbying the province to be treated at par with other non-essential businesses.

“There has been no reported examples of transmission down to tourism. That’s the message that we are putting to the chief medical officer,” said Bloore.

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries said outdoor museums and galleries can reopen as long as it is within capacity limits, but not indoor sites.

“While we are seeing a bend in the curve in Ontario, we are unable to speculate on the loosening of restrictions ahead of the implementation of Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen," a spokesperson said in an email. "Details on Step 3 under the Roadmap will be provided in advance of implementation.”

The tourism association and local businesses said they will continue to fight to reopen as soon as possible.