People look at tulips at Commissioners Park in Ottawa, during the Canadian Tulip Festival, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, May 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Long weekend traditions missed as Canadians abide by COVID measures

Canada’s unofficial start to summer has been pushed back by COVID-19

The Victoria Day long weekend for Rob Watson meant friends, sunshine, barbecue, beer and a cottage.

The 36-year-old laughingly remembers batting away black flies on morning runs in Port Stanley, Ont. He’d jump off the dock afterward to cool off, then crack a cold one before unfolding in a Muskoka chair for a lazy afternoon by the lake.

“(Victoria Day) is kind of when Canadians come out of hibernation,” said Watson, a competitive runner. ”It’s like: summer is here. It’s a very Canadian thing.”

This year, Canada’s unofficial start to summer has been pushed back by COVID-19. The long weekend known fondly as May Two-Four in parts of the country has been all but cancelled.

That cottage getaway, the Blue Jays game under an open Rogers Centre roof, or beers on a patio have been achingly replaced by blank squares on the calendar.

Canadians have largely supported physical distancing, and most understand it’s a necessary effort to avoid a potentially catastrophic spread of coronavirus. In a recent Leger poll, 97 per cent of respondents said they practise social distancing and a majority suggested they did not want to rush the reopening of venues, summer camps, bars and galleries.

Still, being able to hug friends and family and reconnect with people outside of their household is at the top of the list of things people miss most, according to an Angus Reid survey conducted after Easter.

And many Canadians, experts say, will feel the loss this weekend.

“One way to think about this pandemic, aside from all the illness, death and stress is that it’s also about loss, and it’s about the loss of all the things that we take for granted — the capacity to visit family or friends or go on public transit, go to a restaurant, go to a movie, go to a wedding,” said Diana Brecher, a clinical psychologist and Ryerson University professor. “There’s so many things that have been cancelled.”

When we’re mourning a loss, anniversaries crank up those feelings of bereavement, Brecher said.

“It’s like this big reminder of ‘Oh, that person, or that experience is no longer accessible to me,’” she said.

The May long weekend is also warm relief after a long winter.

“We’re Canadians, we live through this long winter and just as it starts to get nice, we’re told, ‘Don’t go out.’ Don’t be in nature that we’ve been craving for six months,” Brecher said.

“So not only is it a loss of what we typically associate with this particular weekend, the gateway to summer and relaxation and freedom and all the things we associate with summer vacations, it’s also a reminder of everything else we’ve lost.”

Karen Thomson will miss the loaves of jalapeno cheddar bread from the Old Country Market just off Alberni Highway on Vancouver Island. Goats graze on the grassy roof of the whimsical market.

Thomson, who turns 57 on Monday, has spent virtually every birthday and May long weekend since she was nine at her family’s cabin at nearby Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.

“It’s just nice to get away, sit and read, have lots of wine,” said Thomson, whose dad Barney built the cabin, which has an unobstructed view of the ocean.

BC Ferries has reminded people to avoid non-essential travel this weekend, citing “limited supplies, health-care equipment and resources” in a statement.

READ MORE: B.C. restaurants can host dine-in guests next week, but what will that look like?

Thomson’s family camped on the land for the first couple of years before building the cabin. Its plywood floors were replaced 15 years ago, but it’s otherwise unchanged. Her dad’s ashes are scattered there.

Kris Mychasiw will miss his morning double espresso on the patio of Non Solo Pane bakery in Dorval, Que. He loved feeling the breeze coming off Lake Saint-Louis.

“Places like these are what bring communities together, where friendships are built and fostered,” said Mychasiw, a sales and sponsorship executive who was furloughed several weeks ago. “Montreal is such a great city full of events and special culture that isn’t replicated anywhere else in North America.”

Quebec has had more than 73,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,400 deaths. Montreal is the epicentre of the coronavirus in Canada.

“It’s a sad time in our city,” said Mychasiw.

Jane Watanabe’s TV is usually turned to sports on Victoria Day weekend, which falls in the thick of the NBA and NHL playoffs. The 66-year-old legal secretary is a lifelong sports fan. She sometimes goes to Blue Jays games alone, buying 500-level tickets on the spur of the moment. Hockey is her first love.

“All three leagues (MLB, NHL and NBA) are shut down at the same time which for me I just think to myself ‘Oh my God, I’m missing my sports so much,’” Watanabe said.

She has the Raptors’ Game 6 championship victory over Golden State last year recorded. She often plays it while she’s puttering around her kitchen.

Watanabe sees the big picture.

“People are dying. It’s a pandemic,” she said. “I do miss my sport. But that just sounds callous when other stuff is going on that is much bigger.”

David Rios will miss “Murph.”

The classic Crossfit workout is named for Michael Murphy, a U.S. Navy Seal who died in Afghanistan in 2005, and received the Medal of Honor.

Crossfitters across North America do Murph — a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, mile run — on Victoria Day in Canada, and Memorial Day in the U.S.

“It’s just that anticipation and the build-up to that day, when everyone comes together and does Murph as one,” Rios said. “It will obviously be different this year.”

Gordon Flett, a York University Professor and a Canada Research Chair in personality and health, said it’s important to keep optimistic and find good distractions this weekend — music, reading, podcasts — to avoid “ruminating about how they wish it was but isn’t right now.

“And keep taking things day-to-day and remind yourself occasionally that you made it this far, and this holiday weekend will hopefully be back to normal next year.”

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


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