This will be one very strange August long weekend, given the cancellation of the Little Current Lions Haweater Weekend and Wiikwemkoong Cultural Festival (aka the Wiiky Powwow). For the first time since their inception, these two iconic Manitoulin high summer events will not be taking place.
Given the steady stream of traffic to be seen coming to Manitoulin Island across the swing bridge in Little Current, the weekend will still be pretty busy despite the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism traffic upon which nearly all of the Island business community depends.
Conversations with several of those businesses over the past few weeks indicate a mixed bag when it comes to individual impacts, but overall the consensus seems to be a reduction in the 35 percent-plus range. A heavy hit for any business, but particularly heavy for the small business people—the quite literal mom and pops—who rely upon the August long weekend frenzy, a combination of high summer hurrah and the traditional homecomings that an extended summer weekend entails.
While the other shoe of an anticipated second wave of COVID-19 infections has many Island residents quite justifiably on edge, we should not easily relinquish our famed hospitality, especially to those for whom the Island has always been their summer home.
Over the generations it has not been uncommon for summer residents to live on Manitoulin while the warm weather is here, but take to more southern and/or urban climes when old Jack Frost comes a calling. This Island is their home and the vast majority are just as concerned about the pandemic as anyone who lives here through all four seasons.
Many of our summer residents are elderly and particularly vulnerable to the virus and continue to maintain strict protocols when they come to the Island. They should not have to add a fear of intolerant neighbours to their burden in these trying times.
There are exceptions, as there are to every rule, but we should strongly endeavour to not paint everyone with the same brush. There are enough of our year-round residents who hold to fringe assessments of the validity of the pandemic and masking protocols to go round without singling out the summer visitors.
Politeness is a Canadian hallmark, one of the few foundational facets of our largely invisible national identity; let us not be robbed of that virtue because of fear of the stranger.
There will be plenty of unfamiliar folks around this coming weekend, but many Islanders (particularly those over a certain age of, dare we say, reason?) have traditionally taken to their bush lots and their own summer hideaway cottages in order to avoid the long weekend crowds. This might be a great time to hold to that tradition to avoid the (albeit reduced) throngs.
Let us celebrate this summer weekend in a less traditional low key manner, but eschew any melancholy over the loss of the popular Haweater events like the cardboat boat races and street vendors, the meeting of old friends and family, the dances, the pageantry and fireworks. This too will pass and there is little point in dwelling too hard upon it.
Instead, let us celebrate the wondrous land upon which we share our lives, safely, responsibly and united as Canadians, for all of our many differences. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so let this year’s absence make next year all the sweeter for the realization of what we have missed this year.