BLANE – America’s closed northern border, which has divided families, destroyed businesses, and inconvenienced thousands of people for the past 20 months, reopened on Monday. And then he turned into a whimper.
On Sunday at 23:00 in Canada, cars began to line up in anticipation of the intersection with Blaine. At midnight, when Canadian visitors were admitted for the first time in over a year and a half, fireworks rang out.
At 7 in the morning there was a queue of cars for a couple of hundred yards.
There was no queue at 10 am. There were only four cars on the seven open lanes.
The reopening – after the longest border closure in more than two centuries – was cause for celebration, but it was held back by inconveniences: it is still difficult to get back to Canada.
“I’m really happy and I know a lot of people are happy, it’s been a long journey,” said Rick Blank, chief ranger of the Arch of Peace State Park at the Blaine border crossing in northern British Columbia. , its southern half is in Washington. “It’s okay, this is what should happen to the two countries.”
The fireworks over Blaine’s Arch of Peace were not Blanc’s business.
“Of course it was illegal, but I’m not going to get up at midnight to go down there,” he said.
The arch was built a century ago to commemorate the end-of-war treaties of 1812 that established a peaceful, undefended border between the United States and Canada.
“May these gates never close,” proclaims the arch.
But for most of 2020 and 2021, they were like that.
The border closed for a month in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first swept the world. This closure has been extended to two months. Then three. Then 19 months passed.
The park, located in a foggy no-man’s land between two border crossings, became a place where friends and relatives from other countries could see each other during the closure.
Tents have sprung up around 19 acres of lawn around the world. There were meetings and weddings. Dozens of families are separated by border, some of them live in Blaine and some in the north.
“Some people had conjugal dates there,” said Larry Krishnek, who was in the park with a church group on Monday. “What the hell is this life.”
Canada reopened its border to vaccinated Americans in August. It took the United States another three months to follow suit.
“Snow Birds!” shouted a border patrol agent Monday morning as a white SUV, stuffed with gear and two bicycles strapped to its back, pulled up to the checkpoint. “Arizona or Bust”.
There were many such travelers, heading south for the winter after the virus thwarted last year’s plans. A van meant for Yuma. Kemper headed for Scottsdale.
Ferry service also resumed on Monday. The Black Ball Ferry Coho has returned to Port Angeles with a full cargo of Canadians.
But for those who enjoy more mundane travel, the border remains functionally closed. A travel document and proof of vaccination are enough to get to America. But in order to move to or return to Canada, travelers need confirmation of a negative molecular test for coronavirus carried out within 72 hours. Such tests can cost around $ 200 (at Bellingham Airport, $ 180), and insurance often does not cover them for travel. So a quick day or overnight trip across the border can be prohibitively expensive.
Tracy Spring and Tom Bakken spent Monday morning at Peace Arch Park with a homemade sign, welcoming Canadian visitors. Welcome back, friends, it read with a hand-drawn heart and maple leaf.
The couple live in Blaine and a couple of weeks ago were able to visit the Spring family in Victoria for the first time in nearly two years.
“We were expecting huge queues of people,” Spring said as individual vehicles emitted approving horns. “We really just wanted people to feel welcome. It’s been so long. “
About 7 million people moved to the United States in Blaine in 2019. During the pandemic, this number dropped by 98%.
“We’ve been fighting for a long time to open the border,” said US Rep. Susan DelBene, Medina County, Blaine County. “From an economic point of view, this is huge, it is very important.”
According to Mayor Bonnie Onyon, sales tax revenue in Blaine City fell 24% in 2020 and its budget was cut by more than $ 700,000.
The city is downsizing parks and renovating streets and has just begun rebuilding some jobs with funding from a federal rescue plan passed last spring.
The daily trips, which are the lifeblood of many cross-border businesses, have yet to take place on Monday.
“Everyone is eager to see how soon more people are coming,” said Watcom County Executive Director Satpal Singh Sidhu. “I think it will take a little time, but everything will come back.”
In a city of just 5,700, about a dozen businesses offer PO Box services, where Canadians can pick up packages at normal times to avoid costly international shipping fees.
Brant Baron owns one such venture, Mail Boxes International, about three minutes from the border. His pantry is overflowing with parcels received since the start of the pandemic that people cannot pick up. He had to rent a second warehouse to store them all.
“If you’ve ever read Great Expectations, it’s like Miss Havisham and her wedding,” Baron said of the novel’s Victorian mansion frozen at one point in time and gradually crumbling.
The bags, folded from floor to ceiling, gather dust, slowly turning yellow.
He pulls one off the shelf: Postmark April 2020. Another: February 27, 2020. March 23, 2020. Will they ever be in demand?
“It was then that I began to realize that everything in the room had stopped,” says Pip in the Charles Dickens novel. “A long time ago.”
The Baron said that the negative test requirement acts, in essence, as a tax to prevent crossing the border.
“The border is open, but given the tax paid between $ 150 and $ 200, it will not be open,” Baron said. “Until this is removed, our core business will not return.”
Among the parcels faithfully waiting in the Baron’s stacks: several shirts, socks and one item that Todd Beavis ordered in the early days of the outage, when many people rarely left the house: “COVID sweatpants.”
Beavis was one of the few Canadian clients who came in this morning. He just flew in from a wedding in Las Vegas and his negative coronavirus test was valid for another day or so.
So he came from Langley, British Columbia to “get gas, grab six tanks,” and pick up the seven packages that have been waiting for him since April 2020.