On Monday I was sitting in my office at the Journal, working away, when I heard a strange noise coming from the back of the building, in the area where all the back issues of the paper are stored and where the Journal used to be laid out and printed.
My first thought was that one of the feral cats in the area had made its way inside. The Journal building — built in 1898 — has no windows that open, and only two doors that do, so when the weather heats up I leave them both open in order to try to encourage some semblance of air flow. The neighbourhood cats are shy, but they have come in before, so that’s what I suspected.
I got up and went into the front office. No one was there, but I once again heard sounds from the back, and it definitely wasn’t a cat. “Hello?” I called out. “Anyone there?” (As an aside, if you think you are alone in a building, the question “Anyone there?” is not one that you really want an answer to.)
“Hi,” a chipper voice replied, and a woman came out from the back room. “I saw your door open. Is that where they used to do the newspaper?”
She was, it turned out, a visitor from Merritt, on her first trip to Ashcroft. We chatted for a few moments, and I gave her a brief history of the Journal and the building. She thanked me, picked up a visitor guide, and was soon on her way.
Later that same afternoon, the same thing happened again. This time it was a couple from Toronto who had rented an RV and were touring around B.C., and had stopped off in town to have a look around; they saw the open door and came in for a look. I gave them the same brief history as before, answered some questions, pointed out a couple of places they should see, and wished them safe travels.
When they had gone, I reflected on the fact that the Journal building now seems to be an official stop for tourists, which is fine with me; I’ll talk history to anyone who shows half-an-interest. I also reflected on the fact that tourists are back, which is quite a novel turn of events after two full summers of no, minimal, or severely disrupted tourism in our part of the world. Monday’s visitors were by no means the first I’ve spoken with; a couple of weeks ago a lovely couple from Washington State stopped by with Peter, the new museum curator, for a chat; they were on their way across Canada to Nova Scotia (I highly recommended the Cabot Trail and Fortress of Louisbourg, if they made it to the Cape Breton Highlands).
Summer 2020 was, in tourism terms, a washout everywhere, what with the pandemic, the shutdown of international travel, and COVID restrictions. Summer 2021, which started out promisingly (even with the pandemic still a very real thing), soon fell off a cliff in terms of tourism in the region, between COVID, the heat dome, fires, smoke, and highway closures.
It’s been so long since we had anything like a normal summer that it is almost startling to come face-to-face with tourists again. Something I’ve been hearing from local organizations that are resuming some of their usual activities and events is that they’re having to re-learn how they did things that were once second nature. When you haven’t done something for three years, people are apt to be a bit rusty on the processes, and the same thing goes for interacting with tourists.
It won’t be too hard, however, to get back in the saddle. It’s like riding a bike (if I may mix my metaphors): once you get started again, the muscle memory comes flooding back. I shall be working on polishing up my history spiels, and will continue to leave the front door open. After two summers of no tourists, I’m happy to provide whatever encouragement I can now that they’re returning.