There are signs all over town: “Welcome friends!”
Canadian flags also hang from the poles to greet visitors upon arrival. In the village of Ellicottville, New York, a three-hour drive southeast of Toronto, reopening the U.S. border to Canadians this week is a big deal.
“This is the most exciting day we have had in a long time,” said Brian McFadden, general manager of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce.
“These Canadians who come here are our friends, we really missed it. “
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McFadden also happens to be Canadian. He moved to the village for good in 1998 after “getting lost in a snowstorm” nearly 20 years earlier, building a house and later marrying a woman he had met locally.
For nearly 20 months, Canadian visitors have not been allowed to cross neighboring border bridges in Buffalo, Niagara Falls or Lewiston, NY, due to pandemic restrictions that have blocked the border.
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Under normal circumstances, hundreds of Canadian travelers would cross each week watching Ellicottville, especially during ski season, but also mountain biking, golfing, and social events in other months.
“We have definitely missed our Canadians and we have missed them,” said Jane Eshbaugh, Marketing Director for Holiday Valley Resort, the leading local destination for skiers. The complex also has a golf course.
“Normally our Canadian visitors represent up to 25 percent of the year’s visitors, and last year we had virtually none,” she said in an interview with Global News.
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Canadians are so coveted that the resort accepts Canadian dollars at par for lift tickets for one week each January.
Many Canadians own homes or rent condominiums in the village. Some spend virtually every winter weekend or longer periods at a time. But the restrictions have been the furthest in the past year and a half.
Eshbaugh points out that the Canadians missed a great ski season in 2020-21 because the weather was consistently cool and the snow conditions were rated as excellent.
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In October, Holiday Valley was ranked the second ski resort in eastern North America by SKI Magazine readers. Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont came in first.
Downtown businesses – almost all locally owned due to requirements that make it difficult for chains to operate in the village – appreciate Canadian travelers as well.
“We have missed families and customers, the people we grew up with here,” said Laura Solly, owner of Daff Dry Goods, a clothing retailer with a Western theme.
Solly says seeing familiar Canadians in her store and on the streets will be welcome.
“I think there are going to be a lot of celebrations,” Solly told Global News.
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But even though Canadians have been legally barred from crossing the border in the way they and the village have been used to for decades, the local economy has not suffered a loss. The opposite is true.
“A lot of people have come in to rent condos and work from home from here,” said McFadden, noting that New York residents, as well as visitors to Pennsylvania and Ohio, were thrilled. the economic vacuum.
“We had record sales,” he said, explaining that in the absence of the Canadians, other travelers experienced the community for the first time.
“We made people aware that we were following the rules (COVID-19). If you would come here, you would follow them, and all of a sudden people started to come here and hang out here. We’ve had all these new people, we’ve been pleasantly surprised since the summer of 2020, ”said McFadden.
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But the Canadian contingent, which missed the village’s 200th anniversary last year, will soon be returning to reclaim their seats on the chairlifts and bar stools.
The only problem remaining: While the US border is finally reopened to travelers at land crossings, Canadians still need to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test before being allowed to return home.
This requirement, which is not expected of Canadians to travel to the United States, is viewed by some business operators and many travelers as a heavy and costly deterrent.
“We’re not going to get the day trippers because you can’t get the results on the same day,” McFadden said, expressing his disappointment.
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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Friday that testing requirements were under review.
“We are looking at this very carefully,” Tam said.
“I think all of this needs to be reconsidered, as we are doing with all the border measures going forward,” she added.
In order to attract Canadians right now, the village has just announced a program that will allow anyone to get free PCR tests at Holimont, the private ski club also located in Ellicottville. According to the charter, 50 percent of club members are Canadian.
This means someone can ski for the weekend anywhere in the community and get tested without looking for a healthcare provider or pulling out their wallet to pay.
“It’s free every Thursday, Friday and Saturday… it’s for everyone who comes to Ellicottville,” said McFadden.
With less than a month to go before the first day of skiing in Holiday Valley, the reopening of the borders is timely.
McFadden says it will be easy to spot those coming across the border.
“We know by their accents,” he laughs.
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