Hot tubs, bonfires and goat raising: Edmontonians embrace pandemic winter staycations

Long before Albertans were ordered not to travel during the pandemic, Andy Grabia and his wife were preparing for a fun and safe staycation. 

“My wife and I were like ‘how do we cope with being stuck at home without going anywhere and embracing Edmonton’s winter season’,” Grabia told CBC, from a lawn chair in his backyard on a balmy January afternoon.

“We’ve had the fireplace for a while but we got these new chairs and we got these ponchos and we actually set up a tree outside … It’s been great, we’ve just sat by the Christmas tree and had cocoa and coffee.”

Grabia is one of countless Edmontonians redefining ‘staycation’ where the constraints of COVID-19 mean barely leaving your home.

Backyards are filling up with bonfires, rinks, and hot tubs while the mild winter draws more and more Edmontonians out of hibernation to walk, skate, ski and ice fish. 

Beverly Kaine became a goat-owner during the pandemic. (Submitted by Beverly Kaine)

Others are exploring newfound hobbies such as soapstone carving, cooking or even raising goats. You can check out what Edmontonians are up to here:

Hot tub rentals are also up. Bernie Reid, owner of Bernie’s Hot Tub Sales Service & Rentals, doesn’t have a rental available until March.

With recreation centres and pools closed, Reid says families are often renting for a month at a time.

“It makes me feel kind of good, especially with the kids, when the hot tub comes and the kids are just flipping out —because it’s a big deal for them,” Bernie said.

“One was on Saturday, they had eight kids. They had some foster care kids. And that was the Christmas present for all of them was a hot tub rental. So they were all just pumped.”

Bernie Reid says anyone looking to rent a hot tub will have to wait until at least March. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

Ryan Young called a rental company and put his name on a waitlist when the pandemic hit back in March. The hot tub arrived on Dec.31.

“A great way to end 2020,” he posted on Facebook with a photo of the long-awaited tub in his backyard.

Christine Fitz took up soapstone carving and made gifts for family and friends. (Submitted by Christine Fitz)

Demand for firewood has also surged this winter.

“You couldn’t find it sometimes,” said Evan Breda, owner of Edmonton Arborist and Edmonton Firewood. “Other people were on six-month waiting lists just to get a load of wood in.”

Breda said the shortage was largely due to all the wood needed to board up buildings after riots in the United States and a very wet year that washed out logging trucks while demand grew. 

“It’s one of the only things you can do right now,” Breda said. “You can’t go to a bar, you sit around outside, have a fire with your friends … So people are doing a lot of that for sure.”

Patricia Wilcox has been feeding the chickadees. (Submitted by Patricia Wilcox)

‘Like you’re in the mountains’

While many local businesses are closing, that reinvigorated enthusiasm for local, outdoor activities inspired Steve Capp to launch a new business that gives Edmontonians an opportunity to explore the river valley.

Starting in May, Urban River Adventures will offer island glamping, river activities, and unique camping experiences including tents that hang in trees.

“It’s just so naturally beautiful down there — it’s like you’re in the mountains,” said Capp from the riverbank near the Walterdale Bridge, where clients will be picked up and ferried upstream to Big Island within half an hour.

Steve Capp launched a new business offering glamping and activities on the shores of the North Saskatchewan. (Scott Neufeld/CBC News)

Capp said clients are already booking anniversaries, birthdays and dates well into September.

“People are looking to do things outside and locally right now,” Capp said. “Of course, we want to support local. We’re working with all local businesses who are helping us supply all the products and gear. And people want to support local and do things locally, and so this is a great way to get people into the natural environment within the city limits.”

Allison Bailer Anderson and her family having been skiing two or three times a week thanks to the amazing weather Edmonton has been experiencing this winter. (Submitted by Allison Bailer Anderson)

For Grabia, staycations took on even more meaning after news broke of Albertan politicians who travelled over the holidays.

He posted a photo on social media, catching some winter rays in a speedo, with the caption: “As someone who has wintered in Alberta, I gotta tell ya, it’s not that bad.” 

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