Queen Street was as busy as Queen's Royal Park on Saturday as visitors and locals thronged together to enjoy the first step of Ontario’s reopening plan.
Business owners were excited to see life flowing back into Niagara-on-the-Lake’s empty pandemic streets.
“It’s been super exciting,” Gail Cunningham, owner of The Butterfly Gallery on Queen Street, told The Lake Report.
“Everybody’s just thrilled to be here and they’re anxious to get the shopping done that they haven’t been able to do.”
Cunningham said the store had lineups for the dressing room because people were anxious to try on as many items as possible.
“Friday was super busy, but today has so far been a little slower,” she said on Saturday morning.
Cunningham noticed one specific trait reflected in all her shoppers: “Everybody’s in such a good mood.”
She wasn’t the only person who noticed the positivity in the air.
“Everyone seems very positive and patient and happy to be out,” said Amy Gibbs, general manager of the Gate House.
She said people were enthusiastic to be able to dine on a patio again.
“It’s that energy that we feel today. It makes our jobs easier and it makes it even more enjoyable to be here and more pleasant,” Gibbs said.
The early shift to Step 1, which was not supposed to start until June 14 but got moved up to the 11th by the province, caught Gibbs off-guard. But she and her staff, who had been preparing to open on June 16, were able to start serving guests on Saturday morning.
“We kind of were in the mindset that it could happen earlier with the vaccination numbers. Mentally, we were kind of prepared, but we’re still running around like everyone else.”
Some restaurant owners have said it was hard to get all their staff back on such short notice with the early reopening. The Gate House had no such problems.
The province “gave us enough notice to make a guestimate. So, all the team were notified and excited to get back,” Gibbs said.
John Wiens is part-owner and general manager of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club’s restaurant. Wiens was excited to have the restaurant open again as he was to have all his staff back.
“Ooh, it’s great,” he exclaimed about being open.
“It’s nice to have the kids back at work. We’re really excited about that, and to get the kitchen staff going again,” he said.
Wiens spoke about the frustration of opening the restaurant in April only to have the province close it down again.
“End of March we could open up, we could open up for 50 inside," but that only lasted eight days, he noted.
“That really hurt. Everyone was really down and upset because we had been waiting since Christmas.”
Wiens also said the golf course had no staffing issues due to the early reopening.
“We retain our staff year after year. All the servers have been with us a number of years.”
With it’s scenic view of Lake Ontario, it wasn’t only the golf club’s patio that benefited from reopening. Harbours are also open now and Lake Ontario was a flurry of activity from sailboats to kayakers.
“The lake was empty for all of that nice weather we had. People with waterfront properties had their boats out, and some Americans,” Wiens said.
Queen's Royal Park was full of families picnicking and the sight of youngsters splashing in the water alongside some very comfortable Canada geese.
“It’s been so good,” Mississauga resident Dharti Patel said as she lounged on a blanket in the park.
“I’m just so happy to see people again. We’re going to try a patio later,” Patel said.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report