By Chad Ingram
We are approaching a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Haliburton County, and in some respects, the pandemic is showing proverbial silver linings for the community.
An important qualifier up front here is that obviously it would be vastly, vastly superior if there were no pandemic at all. That would be much, much preferable to the current situation. Just want to make that perfectly clear.
However, we are of course living through a pandemic, one that, given the speed of vaccine rollouts in this country, doesn’t seem likely to be over for Canadians any time soon.
For Haliburton County, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it some trends that also don’t seem like they’re going to end any time soon. Since a state of emergency in Ontario was announced by the Ford government last March, it has been evident there are more people than usual in the county. The summer is of course always busy in the Haliburton Highlands, but that busyness didn’t come to a pronounced end in 2020 the way it typically does once summer packs up its picnic.
Usually, the end of the Labour Day weekend brings a marked quiet, a very distinct, noticeable difference in the amount of traffic on the county’s roads and people on its sidewalks. That was not the case last September. There was still a difference, but it was far less distinct. Usually, a second level of quiet falls over the county following Thanksgiving, when retired seasonal residents without children might head back to the GTA for the winter, or year-round residents who are snowbirds might start hopping planes for Florida or Arizona. That was also not the case last fall.
Amid the anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic, many seasonal residents are choosing to make the cottage their home, which only makes sense. There are more people in the county for more of the year. And ultimately that’s a good thing.
We are obviously still in the throes of the pandemic, and provincially mandated shutdowns have hurt some sectors more than others, and in some cases, businesses in the county have been forced to close. This is not the good part.
However, in the long run, more people in the community for more of the year will mean a greater demand for goods and services year-round, which will ultimately mean more money circulating through the county’s still-largely-seasonal economy for more of the year. That’s the good part.
The community was already beginning to change with more and more seasonal residents retiring year-round to what had been cottages. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating that trend. A recent survey by the Township of Minden Hills on its waste disposal services found that 26 per cent of seasonal respondents intended to turn their seasonal residences into their year-round homes, and that while currently the majority of the township’s residents are seasonal, that position could flip within five years, the majority of residents becoming year-round residents. There are similar trends in all the county’s townships, told through statistics such as landfill traffic counts and monthly construction values tracked by building departments. In Algonquin Highlands, use of the township’s campsites and trails have been through the roof since their reopening following the initial stages of the pandemic.
More people in the community will also mean local municipal governments will have to make considerations about the way they provide services. How long, for example, will it be before a growing year-round population demands garbage pickup?
For decades, municipal politicians in the county have grappled with how to expand its largely seasonal economy. In some capacity, the COVID-19 pandemic and its legacy are doing that.