May 25th, 2024

Canadians head for the border as U.S. opens land crossings to non-essential travel

By Lethbridge Herald on November 8, 2021.

A long line of vehicles wait at the Coutts-Sweetgrass border crossing Monday morning as the U.S. opened land borders to non-essential traffic for the first time since March of 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Herald photo by Dale Woodard

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

As the clock struck midnight on Monday land borders opened to non-essential traffic crossing the border for the first time since March of 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steadily, albeit slowly.

In fact, at the Coutts-Sweetgrass crossing, vehicles were already cued up Sunday night as fully vaccinated Canadian vacationers and day-trippers staked out their place in line in anticipation of their return to U.S. soil.

Some had started arriving even earlier than that with Lines of RVs beginning to stream into Coutts, with a population of around 250, on Friday.

The port of entry between Coutts and Sweet Grass is one of the busiest on the border.

As he walked his dog alongside the chain link fence overlooking the border crossing at Coutts Monday morning, local resident Steve Pain assessed the long line of vehicles that hadn’t let up in the past nearly 12 hours as rows of vehicles snaked north, past the duty-free building and around the corner on Highway 4, leading clear out of town.

Around noon Monday, the line of vehicles still extended as far as Township Road 12, four kilometres north of Coutts.

“It was incredible,” said Pain. “The dog and I went for our walk shortly after 9 p.m. (Sunday) and they were already lined up as far as they could. They weren’t letting them through, of course, but they were lined up. As far as the highway, it was plugged all the way around to the Department of Transport (inspection station) by that time. The streets were lined up with vehicles. We had RVs lined up in the park. All day long, the little RV park here was plugged and they were already parking in different areas. On the streets, I just couldn’t get over the number of vehicles.”

As a local resident, Pain took it all in stride with a hefty dose of humour.

“I think everybody just stayed clear, just got out of the way,” said Pain with a laugh. “I told (my wife) ‘We aren’t going anywhere today’. We usually shop in Milk River on Tuesdays. I’m sure they’ll let us through, there’s nothing going north. But we’ll still watch it, we can take the back way back into town.”

A resident of Coutts for a little over a year, Monday’s scene was a new one even for Pain.

“I haven’t seen so many cars and RVs in Coutts, ever,” he said. “It’s just incredible. I knew it was busy.”

The United States has kept its shared land border with Canada closed to non-essential travel since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Anyone aged 18 and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter the United States and should be prepared to provide proof of their vaccination status, while younger travellers are exempt from the requirement.

The travellers won’t have to present a negative COVID-19 test, however, unlike in Canada.

When returning to Canada, all recreational travellers over the age of four must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their return flight or arrival at the land border.

Canada will accept only a molecular test, such as a PCR test, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Travellers crossing into the U.S. for short trips are allowed to take their molecular test in Canada and then use it upon their return, but only if it’s less than 72 hours old.

Canadians who enter Canada without taking the test could be fined up to $5,000.

Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans Aug. 9.

Hailing from northern Alberta, Grande Prairie resident Kim Koch said she had been in line for two hours as of 10:20 a.m. Monday.

“We expected a bit of a lineup. We left Duchess at 5:30 a.m. so we would get here at a half decent time,” said Koch, heading to Apache Junction in Arizona, where she will be staying until April.

Aside from proof of vaccination, Koch said not much else had changed as far as crossing into the U.S.

“It was nice that we didn’t have to have the negative test. Hopefully by the time we come back we won’t have to have our negative tests.”

Laverne Greg of Edmonton and her husband were also Arizona-bound Monday morning.

“We got in line at 8:22 this morning, 3km or so, on the other side of the tracks,” said Greg as their truck and trailer inched ever-closer to the border patrol booth at around 11:20 a.m.

Still, the wait nor the line of vehicles was unexpected.

“We anticipated this sort of thing,” said Greg. “It’s quite hilarious when you look forward and you look backwards. We know there are some friends somewhere in line here as well. We’re excited like everybody else.”

Still, Greg felt for the commercial drives who were also held up in Monday’s border crossing traffic jam.

“They have to sit in this. Couldn’t they have planned it a little bit better? It’s not like they didn’t have time. (But) we expected the wait.”

With proof of vaccination necessary to cross, Greg said she felt safer heading to their Arizona winter home, where they’ll remain until April.

“But once you’re there, I think we have to follow the same rules that we could back here in Canada because they’re a bit different in the U.S,” she said. “In Arizona, we already know people there and they said there’s no mandate for mask wearing. But we’re camping. We’re in an RV park and we’re outside most of the time. The lady behind us (in line) is with us and she’s towing our machine down.”

A snowbird as well, Pain and his wife are getting ready for their 14th trip to the States, heading to Yuma, Arizona.

“We spent our first Canadian winter here last year in a long time,” he said.

For this year’s return trip, they’ll have the necessary proof of vaccination that will get them to the U.S.

“I’m totally in favour of it,” said Pain. “I know some people who don’t agree with me. I think it’s the most unselfish thing you can do as an individual right now, to get vaccinated.”

– with files from The Canadian Press

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