What to do in Waterloo Region if you're staying close to home this summer
The clocktower in Kitchener's Victoria Park is shown in this file image (Matthew Ethier / CTV News Kitchener)
KITCHENER -- With travel restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are on the lookout for summer activities a bit closer to home.
Waterloo Region has plenty to offer -- both indoors and outdoors -- for residents who want to take a staycation right in their backyard.
Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, said it's an important for people to support businesses in their community.
"I think one of the things that people haven't understood yet is how big a hit businesses have taken," she said. "If they don't get support now, they are in danger of having to close their doors for good."
"Nobody wants their favourite restaurant or favourite attraction to not be there anymore."
Waterloo Region moved into Stage 3 last week, meaning most businesses are able to welcome back customers while following proper health and safety protocols.
"[We need to] make sure that we're sharing credible information with people to make sure they feel comfortable going out," Schneider said. "So, visual pictures, video of where people are enjoying themselves, but you've got to make sure that they're not breaking any rules by being too close to one another and making sure we're educating people about what's safe."
Schneider said while some people are willing to leave their homes again and return to a new normal, others are more hesitant to go back to activities they were doing before the pandemic.
"If people are a little trepidatious to begin with, they should start small, like maybe go for a bike ride or go horseback ride, do something where you can physically distance and you feel comfortable doing it," she said. "Then maybe work up to going to an indoor attraction or going to a restaurant and eating indoors. Start at a large patio before you venture inside."
Anyone planning to visit a local attraction should remember to follow all public health orders laid out by the province and local officials.
Waterloo Region's mandatory face covering bylaw came into effect on July 13. Face coverings are mandatory in all public spaces and on public transit, with some exemptions.
People are also encouraged to maintain two metres of physical distancing from those outside their social circle, practice proper hand hygiene and stay home if they are feeling sick.
Here are 10 things to do with your staycation in Waterloo Region:
LOCAL FARMERS' MARKETS
The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, a staple in the region, reopened to customers in June. It's the largest year-round market in Canada.
However, the market wants people to know it's not business as usual.
“Everybody needs to understand that it’s not the same market you would normally expect,” market manager Leanne McGray told CTV on reopening day.
There are fewer vendors this year and they're encouraging contactless shopping and payment.
The Kitchener Market also welcomed guests back last month.
The Saturday market is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but the food hall will stay closed until further notice.
The Cambridge Farmers' Market opened in late June after a lengthy closure due to the pandemic. That market is capping guests at 200 people and has designated entrances and exits, rather than letting people move freely in and out of the building.
All of the region's markets are encouraging physical distancing and proper hygiene.
CAMBRIDGE BUTTERFLY CONSERVATORY
The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is open for business.
The tropical butterflies and moths are all from Costa Rica and the Phillipines.
There are around 40 different species at the sanctuary. Some are raised on-site, meaning people can see them in all four developmental stages.
There are new health and safety protocols in place, including timed tickets available in advance and directional signage for anyone visiting the sanctuary.
AFRICAN LION SAFARI
Anyone looking to spend a bit of time in exotic nature can head out to the African Lion Safari.
The animal reserve houses everything from lions and giraffes to zebras and birds of prey. The animals are free to roam their reserve, while people stay inside a vehicle to get an experience of the wild.
Guests can purchase tickets ahead of their visit online and anyone over the age of two is asked to wear a mask inside all buildings.
The safari has also increased its cleaning to help combat the spread of the virus.
The Grand River runs through Waterloo Region, offering hiking trails, bicycle routes and canoeing and kayaking out on the water.
Anyone who has their own boat can head out from boat launches. Several companies also offer canoe, kayak and tube rentals for anyone who wants to get out on the water.
Bookings must be paid for in advance and guests need to wear face coverings while riding on the shuttles.
The Grand River Conservation Authority opened overnight camping reservations at the start of July.
Some beaches and washrooms are also open for day use in the GRCA, but other amenities are closed for the season.
CONESTOGO RIVER HORSEBACK ADVENTURES
Horseback rides along the Conestogo River offer built-in physical distancing while taking in scenic views.
Conestogo River Horseback Adventures offers one-, two- or four-hour tours along the river bank.
The farm also offers summer day camps.
Anyone wanting to go on a horseback ride needs to book in advance to control numbers on the farm. Equipment is also sanitized between guest.
Waterloo Region residents can hit the links for some physically distant, outdoor fun.
Golf courses were able to welcome back guests in late May.
Courses have made some changes, like altering flags to minimize contact. City-run courses in Kitchener also said they've removed items that are touched frequently.
If a full day of golf doesn't appeal, Bingemans has two mini putt courses available. Groups are capped at six people and they need to be from the same social circle. People also need to book their tee time in advance.
Indoor spaces have recently started to allow guests back through their doors, including art galleries and museums in Waterloo Region.
People need to wear a mask inside the spaces to comply with the region's face covering bylaw.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery has reopened to guests, with a capacity of 10 people at a time. The gallery has take-home art kits available for kids looking to stay creative in the summer months.
Uptown Waterloo's Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery opened again at the beginning of July. It's also offering an art camp at home.
KEN SEILING WATERLOO REGION MUSEUM
The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum has opened with reduced hours. Tickets for the museum's current exhibit -- Mandela: Struggle for Freedom -- are available to be purchased in advance for 90-minute visits. Visitors can also go to the Door Heritage Village "Walk in the Park," but the buildings are closed.
The museum's main gallery will stay closed for the time being.
The City of Waterloo Museum is also welcoming visitors again and said it has a screening process in place for all guests.
Langdon Hall is open for guests looking to relax in the spa or one of the rooms in the hotel.
All guests will receive a wellness kit when they arrive with sanitizer, face mask and information about COVID-19 protocols currently in place. Spa services are available by appointment for guests.
The hotel has an outdoor dining area for when the weather is nice, with an option to move indoors if it starts to rain. People who aren't staying at the hotel can only come for lunch; breakfast and dinner sittings are reserved for guests only.
Anyone looking to support local restaurants and stay physically distanced outdoors can head out to a patio in the region.
Many areas have closed streets and expanded patio space to encourage proper distancing.
Belmont Village has tables available for diners outdoors all down the avenue. Hespeler Village closes Queen Street every Saturday so people can come support local restaurants.
Waterloo has closed Willis Way to the rainbow crosswalk, along with Princess Street between King and Dorset Streets. The street closures are expected to stay in place for the rest of the summer.
On Friday, Kitchener also announced it would be closing three city streets to cars so that pedestrians can comfortably maintain distance while supporting downtown businesses.
Explore Waterloo Region has also launched Art Al Fresco, a public art project featuring designs from 50 local artists on picnic tables on patios in the Tri-Cities.
- Take a walk on the West Montrose Kissing Bridge
- Catch a drive-in movie at Bingemans
- Take a walk or bike ride on the Iron Horse Trail
- Spend some time at Victoria Park
- Visit the historic Galt downtown
- Walk through the rare Charitable Research Reserve
Photos courtesy Explore Waterloo Region