Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways


At first it was just another of the petty annoyances that come with owning a car. While I was driving along a back road in southern Ontario, the rubber belt on the car’s engine that drives the generator and water pump snapped, setting off alarm chimes and a stern dashboard display warning to pull over.

But then I remembered that we are not in normal times. The auto club was still dispatching tow trucks. But, quite rightly, I wouldn’t be allowed to hitch a ride in its cab from a remote rural crossroads where I was stranded to someplace offering rental cars and hotels.

Sorting out the situation would prove to be the first of many reminders that despite the ever-growing list of reopenings across Canada, much remains far from normal.

Even before I discovered that the auto club would take my car away but not me, it was obvious that the new programming varies even within a province. One company operates all the service centers along Ontario’s expressways, for instance, but only a few of them, apparently following local rules, had employees turning away customers without masks.

I peered down at one beach on Lake Erie where several large groups had gathered, flagrantly breaking several rules. Twenty kilometers down the shore, another beach was completely empty and condoned off like a accident site. The crowded beach has since been closed.

In the grand scale of things related to the coronavirus, my breakdown complications were less than trivial. No one in my family or in my circle has become infected. I’m not out of work, facing a pay cut or struggling to keep a small business afloat.

And while I am traveling a bit on assignment again, if with restrictions, my work can be done without the risks facing people in health care or the exposure to large numbers of people that retail workers encounter every day.

But breakdown night was certainly abnormal. My wife, who was just under five hours away at our cottage, headed out to retrieve me. The tow truck would have to wait until she arrived, otherwise I’d be sitting in a ditch with my belongings.

I passed some time booking a hotel room in a nearby city only to find that a remarkable number of them were closed.

A farmer passed by in a high-wheeled tractor used for spraying crops and then returned in a pickup truck to make sure I was fine. We agreed that I couldn’t go with him to his home and that nothing could be done for the car on the spot.

Around midnight, when my wife arrived, the car’s battery was exhausted but not the biting insects. When we went to the hotel I had booked, we found that staying in a hotel, normally a routine part of my work life, had changed.

The bars and restaurants were dark. The parking garage under the large, high-rise structure suggested that there were only about half a dozen other guests. Most of its parking stalls were instead filled with pallets of new furniture and mattresses. Presumably the hotel is taking advantage of its extra high vacancy rate to refurbish rooms.

The next morning we learned that the car couldn’t be repaired until a part arrived in a couple of days. And my wife and I were heading in different directions. But renting a car, again another old routine, wasn’t easy.

Even though travel remains well down from normal, most rental outlets were sold out. So it was surprising to pull into the lot of the agency that could offer a car to find it packed with vehicles. The manager explained that he couldn’t rent most of them. The fleet service company that handles their maintenance was closed, he said, and the grounded cars were past their oil change intervals.

As summer goes on, the adjustments to routine will continue, and not just in Canada. Several of my colleagues have written an overview of how other countries plan to tweak reopening plans to keep the virus under control.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to

Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here.

Source : Nytimes