Maurice and Francoise St-Jules have spent many nights camped out in Walmart parking lots across the country. The couple, who said they have been been travelling their whole lives, drove their RV to the Yukon from their home in Red Deer, Alta.
They arrived in Whitehorse last week, spending one night at Walmart before taking a trip to Dawson, and then returning for another three nights.
News that the territory’s only Walmart will ban overnight camping this summer comes as a surprise to the St-Jules’. They have spent over 200 dollars at the store this trip alone, and like to stay there “because we can buy everything at our door.”
They said they had a hard time finding an RV park in downtown Dawson, settling on one outside the city. “Here is pretty full too.… You need to call in advance,” said Francoise St-Jules.
In an email statement, a Walmart spokesperson said rules on overnight parking for RVs and campers vary from store to store, and “depends on a variety of factors including municipal by-laws and the amount of parking required for customers.”
“Our Whitehorse store will end overnight parking this summer following several customer complaints about unsafe parking conditions and debris in the parking lot,” the spokesperson wrote.
The statement didn’t say exactly when the changes will take effect and how the new rules will be enforced. The company did not respond to a request for clarification.
Marc Gagne from Whitehorse, who is travelling with a friend in an RV, said Walmart’s location is a big attraction for tourists.
“Walmart parking lot isn’t the best tourist destination, but they do go spend money around town and the likes, including Walmart,” he said.
Gagne was parked at Walmart to pick up items for a camping trip outside the city. He said he thinks people are willing to pay for campgrounds, but they also want the convenience of being downtown.
“I would prefer that there’s no camping at Walmart, but I understand (why) there needs to be camping at Walmart,” he said.
“I think people should be out in their surrounding area enjoying nature and spending money at campsites, or whatever the case may be … but I understand the constraints. There’s not enough camping for locals, mind you travellers.”
Gagne said travellers should take responsibility for problems such as trash in the parking lot, but thinks Walmart could start giving out fines.
He’s disappointed that the store isn’t engaging the RV community first. Ideally there should be more campgrounds, he said.
“Everything is full…. I don’t know if it’s a bad reflection on solely Walmart.’
Morris Kostiuk, owner of Pioneer RV Park and Campground in Whitehorse, said he’s not holding his breath for the ban. His campground is a 10-minute drive from downtown and has been open for 38 years, with RV camping starting at $35 per night. This weekend is the only time he’s been full all summer.
The rest of the time he operates anywhere between 50 and 70 per cent capacity. Kostiuk said he has good reason to believe Walmart is to blame.
“Lots of times they’ll come in and look around and find out what the rates (are) and say ‘We’ll be back,’ and then they’re sitting at Walmart. No question about that,” he said.
“All I know is at that time (Walmart was built) there were five RV parks in the city and now we only have two. There’s a direct result by itself.”
He’s seen as many as 100 campers and RVs lined up outside the store. “That’s the cream of the crop for RV parks,” he said.
It’s not the first time he’s heard that Walmart plans to ban overnight camping. But right now, his property is worth more than the park is generating.
“We don’t know what the future is going to hold,” he said.
Bill Scott is traveling with his family from Campbell River, B.C. He said RV parks can be quite pricey and likes that Walmart offers an easy stopover.
“Sam Walton wasn’t really a dumb person when he started (Walmart) in the States. He allowed everybody to park… That’s billions of dollars a year that they make.”
He can understand why there is concern, but doesn’t think banning camping is viable. He said the Walmart in Campbell River now only allows one night stays.
“Say put up a sign one night parking, so you can regroup and refuel and everything and carry on. But if they’re going to shut it right down, I don’t agree with that.”
Patti and Jim Ballou have travelled in their RV for 15 years, occasionally staying at Walmarts across the continent, but they have not come across a one night only parking rule. Like other travellers they have camped for a few nights, but said they typically only stay for one.
“A lot of (campgrounds) are not right on the highway, so you get in, check in, get parked and then go through all that the next morning too,” said Patti Ballou.
“It’s just quicker, easier and if all you’re going to do is sleep in (the camper), it just doesn’t make sense to spend 40 bucks.”
She and her husband have driven to the Yukon from Missouri, passing through Whitehorse on their way to Anchorage. They’ve spent money at Walmart and several restaurants around town.
“If we were spending 40 dollars a night at a campground, we probably would not be eating out as much. So then the losers will be the restaurants,” she said.
Francoise and Maurice St-Jules will be traveling for the next few weeks. They’re not sure when they’ll be back to Whitehorse, but if the ban has taken effect she said it’s the store that will ultimately lose out.
“It will affect more them than us, because we can go anywhere else.”
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