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Sunset Country Awaits Your Return

By Dena Vick - March 16, 2021
Visit Sunset Country
Photo courtesy of Bill Lindner
The sights, sounds, and experiences of Sunset Country are unmatched anywhere in the world. This place stirs the soul of every angler, hunter, paddler and adventurer who casts a line, swings a gun, or sets up camp among its pristine, pine-studded shorelines.

Whether it's escaping from the hustle and bustle of urban life, or simply seeking a deeper connection to the things that really matter - clean air and water, abundant fish and game, and quality time spent with family and friends - you'll find what you're looking for in Sunset Country.

Days begin with colorful sunbeams dancing across one of 70,000 fishable lakes, highlighting the birch trees and awakening the resident chickadees. Cool breezes carry the faint scent of pine as a reminder that tall buildings, long lines, work deadlines and annual performance evaluations no longer matter - at least for a while.

The cry of a passing loon alerts you to grab your coffee and head down to the dock, because the hungry walleyes that swim in these crystal-clear waters wait for no one. The silence is pierced only by the hum of a small but stout outboard, carrying you past granite bluffs and isolated islands to your destination: a pristine reef, hidden just beneath the surface and teeming with fish, just as it has been for generations.

Visit Sunset Country
Noon is highlighted by Sunset Country's most sacred tradition: shore lunch, complete with fresh walleye, hot beans, and fried potatoes and onions all cooked to perfection over a crackling fire. Then, it's time to head out to chase more fish; perhaps lake trout from the inky depths, or musky prowling near the wild rice beds that you spotted during the world's best morning commute.

Or maybe, as the green leaves of summer fade to dazzling shades of crimson and yellow, it's time to don an orange vest, load shells into your gun, and march through the pines and alders in search of grouse. Fins, feathers, and fur - you'll find them all in Sunset Country.

Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Happily, these experiences have been a reality for many thousands of Americans who, for generations, have made annual trips to this sportsman's paradise - that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A halt to non-essential cross-border traffic stopped the flow of anglers, hunters, and adventurers across the border, and for many Sunset Country resorts, restaurants and guides, those same dreams have become a nightmare.

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"I take calls from people that have been visiting the area for generations that are beside themselves. They are really upset that they can't cross the border. I spoke with a gentleman the other day that was pretty choked up. This would be his 50th year to vacation here and he had to cancel," said Gerry Cariou, Executive Director, Norwestario Travel Association Inc. A trip to the wilderness areas of Northern Ontario is a rite of passage for many people - one which the pandemic has temporarily suspended.

Paradise and the Pandemic

March 16, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic wall between the US and Canada. Throughout the past year, there would be periodic discussions of border open dates; however, each time, the government would provide only three days' notice of a potential border opening. This of course caused a host of problems for travelers, but it was also extremely challenging for the wilderness areas of Northern Ontario and the resort owners and guides that live and work there. Not only were American guests trapped south of the border, but with such short notice, resorts also couldn't offer reservations to Canadians, as they could end up double-booked if the border were to unexpectedly reopen.

Can any business survive without revenue?

The wilderness area of northwest Ontario boasts more lakes than people. It consists of 60,000 square miles of woods and waters and supports a population of around 68,000. Over 70,000 lakes blanket the area, with the largest being Lake of the Woods. Because of its northern climate, this area has a short operating season; during the prime travel month of June, there are more Americans in Sunset Country than Canadians.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on tourism, especially for sportfishing. Going back to the 1920's and 30's, tourism has been almost entirely reliant on American visitors - but not this year. Many operators live throughout the winter on deposits made by visitors for peak season travel and accommodations. When the border closure was announced, many would-be visitors started requesting the return of their deposits. This created quite the dilemma-how would the resorts, and the people that work there, survive? Many of these resorts have had no income since October 2019. Could you live on 10% of your income for 24 months?

At least 90% of guests to this area originate in the United States. Area resorts can't replace those numbers without the return of the American anglers and hunters. Indeed, while Americans tend to stay a week or two in Sunset Country, Canadian residents may only travel for a short staycation: a couple of days or a long weekend.

Pandemic impacts on Sunset Country tourism have been worse than just about anywhere else. Here, nine out of ten resorters have experienced a 100% revenue loss. The Canadian government has offered loans to help, but at this point, the area has already lost two irreplaceable seasons.

Visit Sunset Country
Photo courtesy of Gateway North Outfitters
Legendary angler Gord Ellis guides out of Quebec Lodge in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He commented that the angling sector of the Sunset Country economy lost $380 million last year. "No one knows when it will open up. It's pretty gloomy," Ellis noted. Consider this: Thunder Bay has a population of 120,000. Their tourism sector lost between $80 - 100 million dollars - devastating for a town of this size - and this is just one example. "During the summertime, 70-80% of my guide trip clients are American anglers, said Ellis. "I didn't see them at all this year. I picked up some Canadian resident customers but not a lot. It's frustrating, but I know the whole world is affected. We just try to take everything day-to-day. There's no way to know when it will change."

But eventually, things will change and we will happily get back to normal. The pandemic border wall will crumble and once again, American anglers, hunters, paddlers and adventurers will move freely across the border. Sunset Country resorts, restaurants and guides have welcomed tourists to their lakes, streams, hills and forests for generations - and they've missed you more than you know. While so many things in the world that we all share have changed dramatically during the past year, the waters and woods of Sunset Country are just as you remember them - wild, teeming with fish and game, and of course, home to world-class hospitality. They look forward to hosting you once again!

To begin planning your next Sunset Country vacation, visit visitsunsetcountry.com

For information on traveling to Canada, visit travel.gc.ca/travel-covid/

Visit Sunset Country
Dena Vick
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