Canadian Border With United States Reopens, But Few Rush In
LANSDOWNE, Ontario – When Heidi Linckh peeked at the Canada-U.S. Border from the 400-foot-high lookout she owns with her husband on Monday, she saw something that has since been missing long in sight: a chain of passenger cars.
Hours earlier, Canada reopened its borders to non-essential travel by fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and residents for the first time since March 2020.
But the pent-up demand created by the shutdown hasn’t led to an increase in traffic from Americans desperate to visit their neighbors again – at least, not immediately. By mid-morning, at the Lansdowne border crossing in Ontario, passenger cars outnumbered heavy trucks, for which the border was never closed.
“This is of course more than what we have had in two years,” said Ms. Linckh from the upper deck of the Thousand Islands Tower, located on a Canadian island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. “But, you know, they opened the border on a Monday. Everyone in tourism could have had a good weekend, but they chose Monday. “
And so far, reopening borders has only been a one-way street.
Late last month, after Canada announced it would reopen its border, U.S. officials made it clear they would not immediately reciprocate.
“The United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel on our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico until August 21,” the Department of Homeland Security said at the time.
On Monday, even with relatively light cross-border traffic, delays were common. Some travelers have proven less skilled than others at navigating Canada’s new documentary requirements in the event of a pandemic.
Crossing the Thousand Islands Bridge, Tim Guinnane, who drove from New Haven, Connecticut, with a kayak on the roof of his Toyota Prius and a bike in the back, said that once his car had done queue, it had taken him three hours to reach a border guard.
“It’s not like a violation of the Geneva Convention,” he said before entering the base of the tower to buy a bottle of water. “I just thought it would be more like an hour.”
Like several other travelers, he attributed the long wait to Americans who had not uploaded proof of vaccination and a recent negative coronavirus test on a Canadian government app. There were also travelers who simply had neither – and they were turned away.
Once at the border crossing, Mr Guinnane said, he was questioned by a border guard for about five minutes in a process that typically takes less than a minute.
The scene was similar to hundreds of miles west of the Rainbow International Bridge that connects Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York, where there were long delays, but not a number exceptional vehicles. It is one of the few cross-border bridges to allow pedestrians, but even pedestrians had to wait 45 minutes to be allowed into Canada.
The Canada Border Services Agency said it did not compile same-day statistics for border crossings.
In March 2020, as the coronavirus spread, the United States closed land borders with its two neighboring countries. Since then, it has renewed the restrictions on a monthly basis, in coordination with Canadian and Mexican authorities.
In mid-July, Canada said it would welcome Americans again starting Monday, provided they had been fully immunized for at least 14 days prior to travel. He said he hoped to welcome visitors from other countries from next month, depending on conditions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that the United States would not follow suit. “We rely on the advice of our medical and health experts, not the actions of other countries,” she said.
If this posture frustrated Canadians, they did not say so, at least publicly.
“Each country can set its own rules for how it will ensure the safety of its citizens,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
Several of the American travelers who pulled into the 1000 Islands Tower parking lot for a break headed to resorts they normally visit each year or were returning to their summer properties in the country for the first time since 2019. Mr. Guinnane and his kayak were heading not far west of the bridge to a location he has rented for about 20 years, except for last year.
Eric Marshall of Cecil County, Md., Who towed an aluminum fishing boat behind his SUV, was heading with his parents to a resort town west of Ottawa that has been a family summer destination for 35 years.
“Last year was the first year we’ve missed since, finally forever,” he said. “I’ve been riding since I was 16. It was a big deal to miss this last year.
Long before the border reopened, Canada allowed entry for family reunification, albeit with a two-week quarantine requirement. This is now lifted for people who are fully vaccinated.
And Canadians can travel to the United States for any reason since March 2020 as long as they fly. This has led a small number of Canadians who enjoy spending their winters in warmer US states to ship their cars across the border and then take a short helicopter flight to find them.
Commercial travelers such as truck drivers, railway workers and ship crews have traditionally been exempt from restrictions. Canadians in border towns who work essential jobs in the United States, especially in health care, have also been allowed to continue their travel.
On Monday, Ms Linckh said the reopening came too late to save this summer’s tourist season. Not a single bus tour has been booked to take in the spectacular view from the tower for the rest of the year.
And not all travelers making the crossing on the first day of the border reopening were coming for extended stays by the lake.
Christine Buckley made the relatively short trip (not counting the three hour wait) from Gouverneur, NY, to spend a day shopping and dining in Kingston, Ontario.
“It’s torture to live here if you can’t cross the border,” Ms. Buckley said. “It’s something you used to do on a regular basis, then suddenly you just can’t. So it’s really nice to be back.
Ian Austen reported from Lansdowne, Ontario. Tara Walton contributed reporting from Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Eileen Sullivan contributed from Washington.
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