With each passing day, Trish Carter remains incredibly thankful to live in eastern PEI, far from the growing pandemic crisis engulfing Ontario.
The London, Ontario native and her family relocated to their new home in Belle River last October. A 22-acre property complete with vast fields, a couple of rustic barns and a scenic view of the Northumberland Strait, the setting is a far cry from the more densely populated city of nearly 400,000.
“My family is loving it here, there’s space for the kids, they’re happy to be back at school. We have the space to just relax,” Ms Carter said.
Current news reports paint a dire picture of Ontario’s third wave; more than 2,350 people are in hospital, including 806 in an ICU, as of April 22, and many doctors fear a collapse of the health system. The situation is, in fact, much worse than when Ms Carter and her family made the decision to leave the province.
“We left before it got really bad,” Ms Carter said.
Even so, the pandemic situation in Ontario was such that the family wanted a drastic change.
Ms Carter, who worked as a facility manager at a hospital in the city, said while COVID was the immediate reason they wanted to leave, the pandemic just added to the weight of the everyday stresses of living in urban Ontario.
“We were guilty of it, running the rat race, so we didn’t have time to spend with family and friends,” she said. “The stress in Ontario – the rat race, the lockdown stress - was very much putting people (in a position of) looking out for themselves.”
On top of everything else, Ms Carter herself was stricken with COVID-19 in the pandemic’s early days. And while she avoided being hospitalized, her lungs are “still trying to recover,” with only 82 per cent lung capacity.
“We had friends from Ontario and from the UK (infected with COVID). None of them had the new variants (of concern) and everyone, thankfully, has survived it,” she said. “It’s hard ... for people to grasp. It’s like Russian roulette – you may get a lack of taste, or you may go to the hospital and die.”
So, the family put their two London homes up for sale, and quickly purchased a home in eastern PEI. The closing dates for the sale ended up being moved up a month, meaning the Carters could start their new life earlier.
“We thought, do we want to be in COVID central for another month,” Ms Carter said.
The family, totaling seven people over three generations, arrived in PEI and promptly began their mandatory two-week isolation. And once the family was settled in, they began to explore and get to know the Island.
And while PEI is very clearly under a ‘new normal,’ with mask mandates and capacity limits, Ms Carter’s perspective shows how normal our lives remain compared to those living in Canada’s most populated province.
One of their first outings was to the Charlottetown Farmers Market, an experience Ms Carter described as overwhelming.
“It was the most people we saw under one roof in eight months, but it was still good,” Ms Carter said. “Numbers were still low, so we felt safe. We didn’t go into any malls or markets in Ontario because of COVID.”
Ms Carter also observed the community-mindedness of Islanders. She noted that she and her family were quickly accepted by neighbours who would ask if they needed any help.
“We felt safe,” she said. “Nobody was protesting ‘don’t wear a mask.’ A lot of Islanders want to look out for each other.
“It was refreshing to move forward with our lives.”
She praised the efforts of Dr Heather Morrison, which she credits for the low cases of COVID and for the fact Islanders can live a relatively normal life. “We’re very lucky we have Dr Morrison watching over us, someone who is knowledgeable and takes things very seriously, and who has the ability to restrict who comes on the Island.”
Reflecting on the situation in Ontario, Ms Carter said she feels “awful” for those living there. “I feel afraid for them,” she said. “It was frustrating to see some people weren’t following the rules and understanding this is for the community’s safety.”
She couldn’t help but be critical of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s policies during the pandemic, including the colour-coded system in which each region had its own level of restrictions based on case numbers and other factors.
“(In Ontario), if one zone was locked down, people would just drive to the next one to do all their shopping and eating out,” she said. “Dr Morrison was very smart in locking down the whole Island.”
And now Ms Carter hopes to ‘give back’ and say thanks to Islanders for keeping each other safe. She’s recently opened a gift shop, Galla Designs, in one of the refurbished old barns next to the house.
Galla Designs itself has had a well-established online presence; Ms Carter weaves custom jewelry and memorials made from horse hair, and has designed custom items for equestrian riders for Team Canada and other riders worldwide. Galla Designs was named after a beloved horse who died in 2010.
But the physical shop includes not just her own creations, but those from nearly 30 local artisans. She plans to add those local items to her own e-commerce website. “It’s nice to be able to give back to the community and have a spot for people who may have been hit by COVID (sales-wise).”
Questioned on whether this is the right time to open a new business, Ms Carter said her custom jewelry sideline is already well-established. And she’s also willing to wait for the day when more visitors will be able to enter her store, which is in a prime location off the Trans-Canada Highway just a few minutes from the Wood Islands ferry terminal.
“Would I love to have everything open? Absolutely, but we have to be safe before we can open.”
Ms Carter admits to feeling pangs of guilt for opening a business here when people from her home province are struggling with lockdowns and the closure of many small businesses.
“I wish they had the freedom we have here,” she said. “I really hope (Ontario’s) current lockdown is taken seriously enough, and that we get vaccinated and get out of this sooner rather than later.”
After the Graphic spoke to Ms Carter, the COVID situation changed yet again in Ontario, PEI and across the country. PEI announced its first two hospitalizations over the weekend of April 17 and 18, including a child under 10 who was admitted to the QEH,but that child has since been discharged.
And in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford extended the province’s lockdown to at least May 20. He also imposed several controversial measures, including the closure of all outdoor recreational facilities and the granting of new police powers to randomly stop and question any individual. A strong backlash took place, and the premier reversed those measures.
Ms Carter said later that: “Doug Ford’s flip-flopping ways are concerning as it does not convey confidence in his decisions. There is still a lot of questions about what is allowed and what is not allowed. I’m so thankful for Premier King and Dr Morrison’s confident and quick actions to keep the Island safe.”