By Darren Lum
While tens of thousands of snowbirds are choosing to head south to warmer climes this winter despite the rising rates of infection and deaths from COVID-19 and the imposed restrictions for travel across the U.S. and Canada border, there are hundreds of thousands of seniors staying in the Great White North.
Three retired couples in the Highlands shared their reasons for staying and how they’ll make the adjustment to living in the county this winter.
Al and Wendy Aubry, Jon and Lois Dannewald, and Scotty and Jane Boyd, who know each other through playing tennis
together every week in the summer, are readying for a winter in the Highlands.
Unlike some snowbirds, who have hired transport companies to deliver RVs to southern destinations while they take a plane and fly into the U.S., the Aubrys didn’t even consider options to go south to Florida like the past 22 years.
“We believe the pandemic is out of control in the U.S.A., and we don’t wish to get on a plane any time soon,” Al wrote. “We considered a winter in Kelowna and travel by private sleeper cabin on the train, but the long distance trains are not running and their return to service is not happening any time soon. So, we’re here for the winter and will make the most of it.”
Recently, he heard an anecdote, reminding him of how he and his wife made the correct decision to stay. A couple in the U.S. told him how they were turned away at a hospital because they were Canadian after one of them felt ill. Upon their return to Canada, it was later learned that the ill individual had contracted COVID-19.
The retired couple, who have been married for 48 years and have three adult children and seven grandchildren, have called the Highlands home since 2000 after cottaging for four years. After living on Boshkung Lake for the majority of their time, they’ve recently moved to Mountain Lake.
After spending winters playing tennis, golfing, taking walks on the beach, socializing with friends, both Canadian and American, the couple will be looking to snowshoe, ice skate and will curl for a full season in Haliburton unlike other years when they stopped at Christmas.
Jon and Lois of Haliburton have been going to Rio Grande Valley in Texas since 1999.
Last year, they only stayed for a month because they could only get out-of-country health insurance coverage for that amount of time, but when COVID-19 hit they sold their place and came home to Haliburton County.
With COVID-19 and getting older, the Dannewalds said going south this winter was not a possibility, particularly with how it was cost prohibitive.
“We have not considered going south for the winter anymore because of our age and medical conditions, out-of-country health insurance is too expensive,” he wrote.
When they inquired about the premiums for insurance they were shocked by the quotes for five months of coverage, which would cost $9,000 for Lois and $2,700 for Jon. The difference, Jon wrote, was because of Lois’s health history, having survived cancer. The other factor is both of them are over 76.
Without the high cost of insurance, Jon pointed out going south to Texas was actually cheaper than living here.
“We found it less expensive to winter in Texas than to heat our home here, besides I had an allergy to snow, it hurt my back!” he wrote.
In Texas, they danced the nights away and socialized with friends. Typically they would leave before Halloween and returned on May 1. This year shuffleboard will have to wait and they’ll trade golf clubs for ski poles and golf spikes for snowshoes.
“We had a good run of hot sun, sandy beaches, and wonderful golf courses for 20 years, now it’s time to enjoy winter in Haliburton,” he wrote.
The couple of 55 years have lived in Haliburton County since 2002.
They have four sons and four grandsons and soon-to-be eight great-grandchildren.
Up until last year, the couple lived in West Guilford.
They just moved to a condominium in Haliburton last year and it comes with some built in conveniences in dealing with winter such as a heated garage, which includes no snow to shovel, “lots of volunteer activity to keep busy.”
Jon admits life here in the winter will be a “major lifestyle change for us but we are looking forward to enjoying a Haliburton winter, change is as good as a rest.”
Unlike the other couples, who have spent the winters in the south, the Boyds have only stayed for the month of April renting different condos over the past several years, but visiting the same golf club in Naples, Florida.
Last year, they didn’t go and don’t expect to go this year with the current situation of rising COVID-19 cases and the absence of a vaccine.
“We of course had to cancel last spring and this one as well. We miss it very much but it is not safe to go with the COVID situation. If there is a miracle and we get inoculated before April, we would head south,” Jane wrote.
For the retired secondary school teacher, who lived much of her life in the Highlands having grown up in Minden and graduating from Archie Stouffer Elementary School and the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, this is home. She left for study at Queens University and work, but with Scotty bought a cottage on Mountain Lake in 1998 and moved back in 2003.
They love winter sports such as curling, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and skating, but find April a difficult month to get outside for athletics or for gardening. Going to Florida has helped with the transition from winter to spring.
There’s a hope to travel this spring. Even if it’s within Canada’s borders.
“If we are here in April, hopefully we will be at a stage where travel is easier. Then we will visit family in Manitoba and maybe in B.C. Otherwise I will keep on running,” she wrote.