As locals in Niagara-on-the-Lake begin to see a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, it’s clear what they have missed the most during the pandemic were those moments spent with family and friends.
The Local spent Monday afternoon chatting up residents and business owners about what they missed, and what they most look forward to as restrictions begin to ease and a return to normalcy seems within reach.
Michaela Overweg, Abbie Martin and Ashley Rowe, all three of whom just completed Grade 11 at Laura Secord Secondary School, were enjoying a chance to get together on Queen Street after 16 months kept apart.
“I missed being around my friends a lot,” Overweg said, “and I missed social events and stuff. I think I really look forward to things getting back to normal. I miss everyone and everything.”
Martin also said it was hard not seeing her friends during months of social distancing. She is sincerely hoping that the Virgil Stampede returns in 2022, after it was cancelled for two straight years.
“I missed my family,” said Rowe, “and I’m a big swimmer, so I missed all of that too. I’m ready to see all my family again and to get back to normalcy.”
Family was also the answer from local resident William Mockler.
“I have four grandkids,” he said, “and I hardly saw them for a year and a half. The first thing I did when we were finally able to get together under Step 3 was I hugged them. We’re double-vaccinated, and it felt safe, but we did maintain social distance.”
Mockler’s grandchildren live in Haliburton and Toronto. This past weekend they all got together at a family home in Alliston for a much-anticipated reunion.
Besides being able to spend more time with his family, Mockler said now that restrictions have eased, he is looking forward to inviting people over for dinner.
Getting back to entertaining is also on the agenda for Pippa de Leonardis. “Socializing with other people, having friends over, having dinners, and going to visit other people and really just socializing face to face,” she said.
De Leonardis is a British expat, whose husband grew up in Italy. Before moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake they ran an organic farm in Bali. So it’s no surprise that she also looks forward to travelling once again in the near future.
“We had a couple of trips that had to be cancelled over the last 16 months,” she explained. “One of them was for my husband’s mother’s 90th birthday in Italy. We’re really hoping that we can get there some time this year.”
At the Sandtrap Pub & Grill that afternoon, patio tables were full of diners, but it was the first in many, many Mondays that tables and booths inside the restaurant were occupied.
“I really missed the interaction with our guests,” said co-owner Paul Dietsch. “They supported us all along through takeout, keeping us alive and going, but there’s nothing like finally getting to actually talk to them and see how everyone is doing. It’s just nice to see our friends and regulars again in the flesh.”
Dietsch was happy to be able to call most of his staff back for the first weekend of reopening, and looks forward to a time when the Sandtrap can be back to full capacity.
Ron Ferguson, recipient of the 2007 NOTL Volunteer of the Year Award, was another who missed one-on-one contact with family.
“We did some Facebook encounters, telephone calls and conversations, but it was restricted to that,” he told The Local. “These give us the opportunity to keep in touch, and visually, and that’s great, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face.”
Ferguson waxed philosophical about the effect the pandemic has had on his life.
“Our lives have not been unravelled, so to speak, as a result of it,” Ferguson explained. “Really, we have been very blessed that we have not physically or otherwise been disturbed, upset or hurt by the pandemic. We’ve been inconvenienced, that’s all I can say.”
“We have a group of very close friends with whom we’ve been meeting each month for over 60 years,” he continued, “and that has gone by the wayside. We are now in conversation to reestablish that on a monthly basis, so we are looking forward to that.”
Douglas Mantegna wished that he had been able to travel, and to eat in restaurants over the past 16 months.
“I look forward to the border to the States opening up, so I can go down and see relatives,” he added. “I wish everybody would get those darn vaccinations, so we can stop carrying these masks around. I hope we can get the vaccine out to everybody who really doesn’t want it.”
Tony Hendriks of Hendriks valu-mart also missed eating at restaurants during the pandemic.
“I look forward to reconnecting with family and friends,” said Hendriks, “and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because I own a grocery store, but going out to dinner. It’s more for the social aspect of it than anything.”
Long-time Shaw Festival actor Guy Bannerman explained a recent weird experience that put things into perspective for him.
“I heard some noise coming from across the street,” said the skilled storyteller. “I wondered what was strange about it, and then I realized it was the sound of three or four friends sitting in a backyard and talking. Isn’t that pitiful?”
As for what his plans are now that Ontario is in Step 3 of reopening, family again is the theme.
“My mom is 102, and she’s at Pleasant Manor,” said Bannerman. “I would very much like to get her out, and to get her over to my backyard.”