A balmy summer float from the 2019 Sointula Salmon Days festival. (North Island Gazette file photo)

Summer in Sointula won’t be the same this year

Malcolm Island community faces economic challenges on top of cancelled festival.

The Village of Sointula has cancelled its annual Salmon Days festival this summer to protect the small Malcolm Island community from COVID-19.

The festival is the community’s main summer event, both socially and economically. It would have been held over the Aug. 7-9 weekend, but organizer Alden Barnett said Sointula will hold tight until it’s safe to party again.

“This year is really disappointing. It’s a huge loss. But we’re doing what we need to to keep this thing away from the island.”

READ MORE: Gold River mail flight connects remote west coast communities with supplies

The event attracts hundreds of visitors with entertainment, food, crafts, dancing and socializing. Many visitors are former residents who have moved away. It’s a significant source of revenue for restaurants and hotels on the island, many of which are open seasonally, based on tourism. Travel restrictions mean the summer is in limbo for many of the businesses.

New owners of Coho Joe Cafe & B&B, Radka Psotkova and her husband Keegan Taylor, had just hired a couple from Toronto to help them for the summer season. The couple had quit their jobs and were in the process of moving west when Psotkova had to call them and say Coho Joe couldn’t afford to have them on anymore.

“Those first two weeks of March, the news was breaking here, and people were really freaked out,” Psotkova told the Gazette. “Pretty much all of our customers stopped showing up. April was a little better, we started seeing our familiar faces coming to take take-out.” Psotkova and Taylor bought the business last year after running the cafe the previous summer with the former owners.

During the year, Coho Joe’s relies on the Sointula community, but during the summer, their revenue is nearly five times greater. Like many tourism-based businesses, it’s when they make the bulk of their annual revenue.

Salmon Days is hands-down the busiest weekend of the year, followed closely by the May long weekend hardball tournament, which has also been cancelled.

Coho Joe’s business is evolving to meet new needs on the island. One couple asked Psotkova to make a special take-out dinner and dessert for their anniversary, and people have asked for birthday cakes and small catering orders for family events.

“It’s things we don’t normally do, but dollars count, so of course, we say yes,” Psotkova said, adding that they feel very supported by the local community. “I think they are making sure we survive this. I think they are making it their business to make sure we get through this.”

Not every business owner is in the same boat, however. Ray Smith has owned and ran the Oceanfront Hotel and Whale’s Rub Pub for more than 40 years, and welcomes the calm forced on his business by the pandemic. With the mortgage paid off, his overhead costs are lower. The drop in revenue is harsh, but his business expenses are also down.

“It’s hurting financially, but I didn’t realize how much I was spending on fuel running up and down island,” Smith said.

The new reality is making him adjust business strategy to a slower pace. “The government loan fills a few holes for a bit,” he said, “but I expect when regulations loosen up a bit, we’ll look for long term tenants rather than treat it as a hotel.”

With enough rooms filled to cover utilities and taxes, Smith is letting the pandemic ease him into retirement. “I’ve never enjoyed my life as much as I do right now,” he added.

Malcolm Island has no confirmed COVID-19 cases at this time, and precautions are being taken to keep it that way. Since a state of emergency was declared in nearby Alert Bay, a conservation officer has been stationed at the Port McNeill ferry dock, turning away anyone bound for Cormorant Island (where Alert Bay is located) who is on non-essential travel. Malcolm Island is not affected by the ban, but nation-wide recommendation to avoid non-essential travel has curbed most visitors.

READ MORE: Alert Bay woman dies of COVID-19 as death toll reaches 100 in B.C.

“There are people here who are strangers to us – maybe they have a new house or something. But we just tell them to stay where they are for two weeks. If you need food for supplies, we’ll get it to you. They can order from the co-op here, and they’ll be taken care of,” Barnett said.

The Sointula Co-op is accepting online orders and has scheduled times for pick-up. Store staff safety is a priority, Barnett added, saying they don’t want people coming in from other places and putting those retail staff at risk.

“So if anyone finds themselves here who’s new, they’re going to be isolating for two weeks for sure.”

As for event plans, Barnett says they’re watching the situation and will be ready to act.

“The minute the gates are open, oh boy, look out. We’re gonna have a party.”

For more news from the Island and beyond delivered directly to your email inbox, click here.


@ZoeDucklow
zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusFestival

Just Posted

University of Victoria chemist works to create at-home COVID-19 test

The test uses a sample of saliva, results are then read by an app

Welcome to grilling season: Island firefighter talks barbecue safety tips

Grills should be cleaned, serviced prior to use, firefighter says

COLUMN: Graduates, gather no moss like a Rolling Stone

Don’t let COVID-19 get in your way, use it, learn from it

Victoria’s 300th little free library comes with its own benches, lighting

New Moss Rock library marks a milestone for the Capital Regional District

Lithium-ion battery fire damages suite in Nanaimo

One man displaced from home after battery for radio-controlled toy bursts into flame while charging

Trudeau offers $14B to provinces for anti-COVID-19 efforts through rest of year

Making a difference in municipalities is a pricey proposition

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

‘Alarmed’: Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Black Lives solidarity demonstration fills Nanaimo park

Anti-racism protest held at Maffeo Sutton Park on Friday afternoon

North Island College leads province in transition to online biology labs

Biochemistry, cell biology, genetics among subjects students exploring from home

Gold River organizes a shop local initiative to creatively boost economy

Local purchases can earn shoppers $200 gift certificates to be spent on businesses within Gold River

Vancouver Island’s Simpson staying sharp for the baseball call

Pirates’ Chemainus player scraps initial plans for Houghton College in New York

Sketch outside, connect with nature through Bateman Foundation program

#MyNatureSketch initiative encourages Canadians to become ‘bright-eyed three year olds’

Most Read