A little over 19 months ago, many northwestern Ontario people thought very little about crossing the US border to get into the United States.
The COVID-19 pandemic quickly brought cross-border traffic to a standstill, and many wondered how long it would be before Canadians could get back to the US
In just a few weeks – in November – Canadians will be able to travel south again on a land or ferry crossing in order to undertake non-essential journeys. Exact details of the opening including the date and test conditions are still to be determined. The move comes after Canada opened its border to American citizens in August.
“Oh, it’s amazing,” said Jaime Spry, the manager of Ryden’s Border Store in Grand Portage, Minn.
Located south of the Pigeon River border crossing, the store is a popular spot for Canadians to post packages.
“For the business in general, of course, financially and the employees and the people we had here. We were all part time, we did it, and now there is at least the opportunity to work at least see some of that coming back . ”
Spry said that some packages have been in the store for more than a year and a half and he will be happy when they can be picked up. He said while the store can handle its packages, space is tight because the packages are stacked for so long.
A little further down Highway 61, Visit Cook County’s executive director Linda Jurek said the shortage of Canadian visitors last year had an impact on Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, which is just a few miles from the border.
“They also employ a lot of Canadians and they have a lot of day-trip traffic and a lot of night-time traffic too. They really struggle without this population being able to visit.”
While northern parts of Cook County were hit hardest by a shortage of Canadian visitors, Jurek said tourism has changed over the course of the pandemic.
“We started traffic south of us. We didn’t feel it as far as visitors did. I think when we really felt we were able to bring events back, and we have some pretty significant cycling events, for example these Canadian athletes weren’t able to come here. “
Last winter, however, there was a significant drop in visitors because the border was closed.
Visit Cook County’s executive director Linda Jurek says companies in Grand Marais and Grand Portage, Minnesota, are excited to open the U.S. border to Canadian visitors in November. (visitcookcounty.com)
“Our partners in the Lutsen Mountains have a pretty significant ski population that comes from Thunder Bay, and it can be felt.”
“We’re just so used to our northern neighbors being part of our community for so long that it’s just weird not seeing people we know,” said Kjersti Vick, director of marketing and public relations for Visit Cook County Relationships.
“You’re not far away. If you’re in the Grand Portage area, you’re closer to Canada than Lutsen.”
Vick said while summer tourism is still going strong, the impact is being felt by local businesses due to more U.S. visitors traveling north. She said many Canadians still travel to the area in the winter when some US visitors wear off.
“The local retail industry really noticed the shortage of Canadian visitors, Grand Marais in particular, it was a destination for a lot of visitors. They made it a point to have lots of stores in Grand Marais and Cook County, either because that’s the destination or on the way to another destination in Duluth, the Twin Cities or beyond. “
Border towns such as Fort Frances, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota, were hit hard by the closure. Often times, people switch between the two communities and countries for regular errands.
“The trade side, of course,” said Tricia Heibel, President of the International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, “is definitely an aspect that I support for my members, and we look forward to it. It’s a big part of our economy, but it’s also the reunification of our communities. And that’s more important. “
Heibel said she considers Fort Frances a “sister city” that is practically part of International Falls. Many people who live in the cities have families on both sides of the border.
“There are certain aspects of the community that we share that are intertwined. We have the cinema, they have the gymnastics club that our children participate in. There are different aspects of life that we share as two small communities.”
“When you live in a border community, it’s weird not to go over there,” Vick said.