Long-awaited trip across the Canada border goes smoothly

GRAND FORKS — Growing up on the Minnesota-Manitoba border, I’ve entered Canada dozens of times over the years — we used to ride our bikes up to the small Manitoba town of Piney as kids — but I’ve never had a crossing quite like the one I had Monday, Aug. 9, the first day Canada opened its border to nonessential travel from the U.S. since March 21, 2020.

It turned out to be uneventful, as trips into Canada go — crossing the border is always stressful — but it definitely was more nerve-wracking than most because I had no idea what to expect.

Would there be a mile-long line of vehicles waiting to cross the border? Had I prepared all of my paperwork correctly? Would the Canada Border Services Agency officer have a bad case of the “Mondays” and make the experience miserable? Would they deny me entry into Canada and send me back from where I’d come?

Fortunately, “none of the above” turned out to be the answer.

My plan that Monday morning was to cross the border at South Junction, Manitoba, north of Roseau, Minn., and head to Buffalo Point on the Manitoba side of Lake of the Woods. Buffalo Point is a popular fishing destination, and numerous people from North Dakota and northwest Minnesota have campers or cabins there.

I’d made arrangements to interview a young couple from Roseau who would be returning to their cabin for the first time since October 2019, some four months before the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel. I would write about their cabin homecoming as part of the Grand Forks Herald’s coverage on Canada reopening its border.

From there, I would drive about 2½ hours west and north to visit some friends who live near Lockport, Manitoba, northeast of Winnipeg. I hadn’t been there, or anywhere else in Canada, since September 2019. Considering I normally go to Canada at least a half-dozen times every year, I was anxiously anticipating my return.

For obvious reasons, entering Canada amid an ongoing global pandemic isn’t quite as simple as it was when we’d ride our bikes to Piney as kids. First off, I had to download the Canadian government’s ArriveCAN app on my smartphone, which now is required for all nonresidents entering Canada, and upload a copy of my vaccination card on the app to prove I was fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As required, I also had to provide documentation showing I’d tested negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before crossing the border. I took the test about 8:30 a.m. Aug. 6 at one of the free University of North Dakota testing events, and my negative results showed up shortly after midnight Monday morning.

The South Junction border crossing opened at 8 a.m., so provided there wasn’t a long line at the border, I’d make the 72-hour testing requirement with minutes to spare.

There were two pickups, both towing boats, in front of me when I pulled into line shortly after 8 a.m. Within minutes, the first vehicle in line was cleared and on its way to a long-awaited Canadian fishing destination.

The second vehicle was cleared maybe 10 minutes later. I pulled up to the officer and rolled down my window.

“We’ll see how this goes,” I thought to myself.

The ArriveCAN app requires prospective visitors to include a quarantine plan before electronically submitting their crossing application, in case they are selected for random COVID-19 testing at the border. Even if their visit is just a day trip, prospective visitors to Canada can’t submit their application through ArriveCAN without including a destination to quarantine, should the need arise.

I put Buffalo Point as my quarantine destination, and that allowed me to submit my application through ArriveCAN before driving to the border.

The CBSA officer greeted me with the usual questions, but I stumbled momentarily when she asked for the address of the place where I planned to quarantine. I gave her the address for the cabin I planned to visit, and that was good enough.

She handed me a two-page document outlining Canada’s requirements for fully vaccinated visitors, and I was on my way.

Like the crossing experience, the rest of my trip went off without a hitch. I was able to be onsite to record video when the Roseau couple pulled up to their cabin for the first time since October 2019. I spent the rest of my stay visiting friends northeast of Winnipeg, and I returned to the U.S. at the Pembina, N.D., border crossing Wednesday morning.

My return to Canada was surreal — for lack of a better word — but it was great to visit again.

Next time, I’ll bring my fishing rod.

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