2 friends using self-isolation to map out COVID-19 travel restrictions across Canada

By | March 30, 2020

Two friends are using their time in self-isolation to map out different communities across Canada that are facing travel restrictions, due to COVID-19.

Different communities across the country are putting in highway checkpoints, cancelling flights and ferries, putting up blockades, and closing winter roads to limit non-essential travel from non-residents.

Alex McPhee and Samuel Dyck have spent hours combing online news articles and local band Facebook pages across the country to assemble a map with as many current travel restrictions as possible. 

McPhee, a University of Alberta student with a background in geography and cartography, collaborated with his friend who lives in Inuvik, N.W.T., on mapping out the different communities.

He said the project began with the two of them scanning through and collecting different local news articles of travel restrictions in communities from the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

Alex McPhee, a University of Alberta student with a background in geography and cartography, collaborated with Dyck on the map while in self-isolation. (Submitted by Alex McPhee)

They started noticing that this wasn’t just something happening locally but it was a national trend. And with all of the spare time on their hands, they thought they should start mapping it out.

Scanning through 300 First Nations

“We decided to try and do a more systematic scan through every First Nation in the country. So we just brought up the list of all 600-odd of them and we went through as many of them as possible.”

He said they have been able to go through about 300 of them so far. 

Still, he said the map is by no means comprehensive, as many smaller First Nations don’t have an online presence that is kept up to date. 

McPhee refers to himself as an open data activist. Many of his skills using software as a geographer were self-taught, something he said was made possible by different levels of government in Canada being “very liberal with their data resources.”

He hopes that in making this map he can pay it forward, by making the data more accessible.

McPhee and Dyck’s map, as of March 28. The duo produced the map by scouring the pages of more than 300 First Nations across the country. (See an error? You can contact McPhee on Twitter @ksituan.) (Submitted by Alex McPhee)

Dyck lives and works in Inuvik, N.W.T., as a policy analyst but he is currently self-isolating in Winnipeg. He is the other half of the mapping duo.

To him, documenting what is happening in remote communities at this time is an important part of keeping historical records.

“We’re in sort of in a historically unprecedented time, and often in moments like these … what happens in small communities doesn’t always get documented-well, for the benefit of those looking back.”

He said he doesn’t know what the long-term implications of these kinds of restrictions will be, but he said it could be useful for people to have this information in the future.

A security guard asks the driver for proof of band membership at a checkpoint at the entrance to the K’atl’odeeche First Nations reserve. Only band members and essential services, like food trucks, will be allowed to enter the community. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Community closures across the N.W.T.

On March 21, the N.W.T. announced it was closing its borders to non-residents with some exceptions. 

The K’atl’odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T., recently declared a state of emergency that includes a lockdown to keep out non-residents with some exceptions.

North-Wright Airways, based in Norman Wells, N.W.T., is temporarily suspending all scheduled passenger flights in the Sahtu region, in what they say is an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19. 

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation also announced last weekend that non-residents will not be accepted into the community unless they are performing essential services.

And for the Deh Gáh Got’îê First Nation near Fort Providence, N.W.T, Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge said they are having conversations about putting checkpoints around the community.

He said he thinks the territory closing its border to non-residents sets a good message about the seriousness of the pandemic, and he thinks the community should follow suit.

“Even for our own community members some people still don’t get the gravity and the seriousness of this [pandemic] and it’ll help if we had a community entrance check stop with some information it’ll help create an awareness.”

He is also encouraging people to avoid unnecessary travel at this time.

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