Niagara Falls tour boats highlight US and Canada’s stark Covid-19 divide

Every day, Mory DiMaurizio looks out his window at Niagara Falls and sighs in frustration.

Not at the sight of the falls – one of the most stunning natural wonders of the world – but rather at the prospect of US tour boats with blue-ponchoed Americans.

“I see it many, many times a day. I look out the window, and there it is again,” said DiMaurizio, the vice-president and general manager of the main Canadian tour company, Hornblower Niagara Cruises.

His company’s boats can carry up to 700 people, but Ontario’s strict social distancing rules have only permitted them to carry six passengers at a time.

In contrast, the US-owned Maid of the Mist boats – which can normally hold around 500 people – are operating at 50% capacity.

The stark difference reflect radically different approaches that Canada and the US have taken to tackling the coronavirus pandemic – and their dramatically contrasting outcomes.

The US side of the falls lies within New York state, an area with a population of 19.5 million, and which has seen 414,000 Covid-19 cases and 32,000 deaths.

On the Canadian side, Ontario – with a population of nearly 15 million – has seen 38,000 coronavirus cases and 2,755 deaths.

The disparity is a consequence of many factors, including universal healthcare, early travel bans and quarantine rules, mask wearing and physical distancing measures.

Maid of the Mist did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in an article published on a local news website, the company’s president, Christopher M Glynn, said: “Our team developed a Maid of the Mist density reduction plan, which is extensive in its approach to safety. The plan was submitted to and approved by the state.”

On Friday, as Ontario navigates stage 3 of its reopening plan, Hornblower Niagara Cruises will start to allow up to 100 passengers aboard each trip – still just one-seventh of its total capacity. DiMaurizio said the company will require masks, physical distancing, contact tracing, and other safety precautions.

Nancy Gagnon rides the Canadian tourist boat Hornblower, limited under Ontario’s rules to just six passengers.
Nancy Gagnon rides the Canadian tourist boat Hornblower, limited under Ontario’s rules to just six passengers. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Niagara Falls attracts 12 million visitors a year, and by this time of year is normally teeming with visitors. But DiMaurizio said the businesses in the area have abandoned hope of turning a profit and are instead just trying to hold on for better years ahead.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel … with respect to being profitable this year. That is not the goal. The goal is to experience as little pain as possible,” he said.

Seeing the Maid Of the Mist boats – packed with tourists – twists the knife just a little bit more each day.

“We would really like to be in a position to have that [many customers] but you do have to balance it with supporting the province and their measures for keeping everybody safe.

“So, yes, I’d like to be there. But I’m really glad Canada is faring as well as it is.”