'Hopefully everybody wants to come up': Sask. outfitters ready for Canada-U.S. border reopening

The federal government has announced that starting August 9, fully vaccinated Americans will be able to enter Canada without needing to quarantine.

That’s welcome news to outfitter Barry Prall, who co-owns Tazin Lake Lodge and Trails End Outfitters, where nearly 100 per cent of business comes from south of the border.

“Hopefully everybody wants to come up … I think a lot of guys are nervous or feel that the Canadians don't want them to come," he said.

“But a lot of these guys that come year after year after year — they just can't wait to come back up here.”

Prall says since border restrictions were put in place in March of 2020, business has been at a near standstill and financial losses have piled up.

“I had all my bear bait bought before March when they closed the border down and I just thought by May it was going to be open, but obviously that didn't happen.”

Saskatchewan Commission of Professional Outfitters CEO Roy Anderson said outfitters contributed $130 million to the provincial economy in April 2020.

“The impact has been severe, as a large majority of outfitting business here in Saskatchewan is what we call export business,” said Anderson. “The clients come from the United States, predominantly.”

Reg Quaale owns Big Bend Outfitting near Birch Hills and Elaine Lake Outfitters in northern Saskatchewan.

“We've had our hunts booked for probably over a year now, and it's just guys that we already booked in are waiting for the border to open,” he said.

“Some of these are pretty diehard hunters and they've been waiting for a year and a half too, so everybody's going to be happy.”

Quaale will begin waterfowl hunting with Big Bend Outfitting Sept. 10.

“It'll be full blast once the first batch come. We'll be going for six weeks straight and then basically we start deer a couple weeks after that at the other camp,” he said.

“It should be back to normal like almost right away I'm thinking, with maybe the exception [of] the guy who chooses not to get vaccinated that won't be able to come up, but other than that it'll be business as usual.”

Prall says during the pandemic, Tourism Saskatchewan helped outfitters financially and with training in marketing their businesses, but things won’t be able to return to normal for Trails End Outfitters outside Nipawin until the fall.

“That's when the big game and the bird hunting and stuff like that starts,” he said.

“I didn't want to plan anything too far in advance because you don't really know, so it was nice yesterday to finally hear some good news and hopefully get things rolling.”

Tazin Lake Lodge is in the northwest part of the province and Prall says the isolated location will mean he and co-owner Trevor Montgomery will have to wait until 2022 to reopen.

“We fly out of Fort McMurray, so our air costs are a lot,” he said. “We have to have guys flying in, guys flying out, it's got to be kind of a scheduled type thing to make any profit at it, so most guys already have said ‘we'll just come next year.’”