Grounded snowbirds hunker down for the winter

Closed borders means restricted travel for everyone, leaving people stuck at home. But snowbirds are thinking about their home and family in the far south. 

Tanner Hudson

Group of snowbirds celebrating Canada Day
Snowbirds come together to celebrate “Canada Day” in Bradenton, Fla., on March 1, 2020, just before the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic forced them back to their frozen homeland. Canadians who winter in the region usually have their own special Canada Day before heading back home. Photo submitted by Geoff Goodyear

COVID-19 has locked many Canadians into isolation, keeping them from the people and places they hold dear.

Among those isolated are snowbirds, who are grounded from taking their yearly travel south.

A snowbird is a northerner who moves down south into a warmer climate during the winter. Many Canadians have been snowbirds in taking flight down to places in the U.S. such as Florida, where the coldest months would be equal to some of Canada’s warmest.

“This has been the first time in 11 years I’ve seen snow,” said Dot Wade, who lives in Mount Pearl.

Wade’s first visit to Florida came about in the 70s when she visited there with her family. She didn’t become a snowbird until 11 years ago when she retired and flew down south with her husband. They stayed in a mobile home and changed spots from year to year. All the while, they had great times with friends.

Even after Dot’s husband passed away, she still ventured down south. Wade sold the mobile home and bought a condo in St. Petersburg and was surrounded by friends and good memories in a community she grew to love.

“Once you start going, it becomes part of your life. It’s two lives, two communities as important as each other.”

Another snowbird, Geoff Goodyear, said a sense of community was a strong point for him as well. Geoff and his wife, Barb, started going to Florida in 2009. The trip would take them two days, driving down from their home in Ontario into the blissful warmth of Florida.

The Goodyears bought a trailer home before Geoff retired in 2008. It was waiting for the couple in Bradenton, about 40 kilometres south of St. Petersburg, and they’ve been going ever since.

Wade and the Goodyears were in Florida when COVID-19 gripped the world.

They each managed to get home but are now stuck in the middle of the winter that they had escaped for so long.

The hardest part of the isolation is having nothing to do, according to Wade. In Florida, there was always someone to talk to or something to do.

“If you were bored down there, it was your fault,” Wade said.

Geoff stresses the importance of staying busy.

“(You) hear about people retiring and then dying a year later,” he said. “You have to have a purpose.”

So the grounded snowbirds spend their time mostly in stories told on TV or in books. Wade particularly enjoys romantic tales, simple and fun. Meanwhile, Geoff spends his time playing golf or waiting for the times that he can play it.

Wade is hoping she can fly back down south before too long.

“It’s hard when you see your friends dropping off due to age or Alzheimer’s, so it’d be nice to go down and see them.”

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