The residents of Prince Edward County, a 1,050-square-kilometer island off the north shore of Lake Ontario, could really use a drawbridge.

Famous for its beaches, vineyards and lilac-edged country lanes, the “County,” as it’s commonly known, has always been a respite for city dwellers. But never more than now. As Ontario and Quebec ease pandemic lockdowns, this rural paradise is about to be hit by a tsunami of stir-crazy city dwellers desperate for a taste of freedom.

It has so far managed to keep the virus contained, despite being roughly equidistant from Toronto and Montreal -- Canada’s two largest cities and worst Covid hotspots -- as well as Ottawa, the nation’s capital. The island of 24,735 people has 43 confirmed cases (less than the national or provincial per-capita averages) and no new ones since May 18.

Maintaining social distance should be easy in the mostly rural county. Forget 2 meters of social distancing; entire hayfields separate some vacation homes from their year-round neighbors.

But holiday renters and day trippers head straight for the beaches and restaurants or, on rainy days, pour into the area’s tiny villages and towns. The county’s mayor, Steve Ferguson, was steamed when he was given less than a day to prepare for the June 5 reopening of more than 1,000 short-term accommodation properties.

When Ontario then allowed restaurant patios, beaches and campgrounds to restart — but not in Toronto — he and his constituents crossed over to fear.

“The suddenness of this really lit a fire under the local population, who are very concerned about Toronto and Montreal coming in,” Ferguson said.

Since the restrictions were eased, his Facebook page has been flooded with hundreds of outraged complaints: tales of rude tourists who refuse to wear masks, and accusations that politicians are putting “the almighty dollar” ahead of local lives. Ferguson said one county official was followed in his car by an irate resident who assumed he was a visitor because the Toronto dealership where he bought his car was marked on his license plate frame. “You don’t belong here,” the resident told him.

“It’s bringing out the best in people and the worst in people,” Ferguson said.

Among the more extreme suggestions he’s received: blockading the island’s four bridges and issuing identity cards to restrict visitor access to shops. When someone suggested handing out different-colored masks for country and city folk, he took a deep breath and drew on the unifying power of Canadian hockey to diffuse the tension: “I said, you mean like a Leafs versus Habs sort of thing?”

First « 1 2 » Next