Days ahead of her road trip north, Robin Masters had already packed her car, filled the tank and mapped her route, all a measure of the anticipation and relief this Texas nurse says she feels now that she can finally return to her beloved Canadian cottage.
“Going home for me is going to the cottage. … It holds emotional attachment,” said Masters, already near tears, in an interview with CNN from her Houston home.
“I think crossing the border, I’m going to be a bit emotional.”
Masters, like most other Americans, has been forbidden from entering Canada since March of last year when the pandemic forced nations to close their borders.
After more than a year of waiting for a return to Canada, Masters said she hopes to be among the first to cross the land border near the Thousand Islands Bridge (connecting New York and Ontario) when Canada reopens to fully vaccinated Americans and US residents at 12:01 a.m. ET Monday.
“Elated, I will be elated. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning, I will be high as a kite,” said Masters, who explains she was so distressed by the border closure last year, she wrote a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Masters said she this in her letter to Trudeau: “I can’t believe that for the first time in my 56 years, I’m not going to spend a summer there.”
Kept away from Canadian lake house
Masters said it’s been frustrating not being able to care for the treasured family property on Devil Lake in the province of Ontario.
Masters’ father, who has since passed away, built the A-frame near the shores of a sandy beach as a family retreat. Relationships with friends and caring neighbors in Canada have been forged over decades and countless campfires.
It made the pandemic all the more heartbreaking, said Masters, a healthcare professional who has been involved in therapeutic research and practice for Covid-19.
“The stress that weighed on me about the whole border thing and the Canadian thing – I would say out of all the stress – that that’s been the biggest stress,” said Masters.
Rough times for duty-free shop
That stress was profound on the other side of the border, too.
Jeff Butler’s family has owned and operated the duty-free shop near the Thousand Islands crossing in Ontario since 1987.
“It’s certainly been a tough go, but this is the first step on Monday with the Americans being able to come back and visit, so we’re hoping that it’s the first step of many to get us back to more normal conditions,” Butler told CNN from his shop right next to Canada’s border crossing.
Butler says while the border reopening is welcome, he is not expecting a massive crush of traffic or business because the United States has decided to keep its side of the land border closed to nonessential travelers until at least August 21.
“I think we were certainly surprised, and I think we’re disappointed from the perspective that we thought border decisions have been done together. At 9/11, the border closed for two days, you know we’ve been closed for 16 months so we thought that things would open up,” said Butler.
Pressure to reopen to Canadians
The Biden Administration has not fully clarified why or how long its side of the land border will remain closed.
Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins, whose district includes the Niagara Falls border, said he has written to the White House asking why the American land crossing remains closed to Canadian travelers.
“It is essential that the United States reopens its land border with Canada – continual delay is unacceptable,” said Higgins in a statement released last week.
In fact, the partial border reopening will likely only be a tentative first step in rebuilding businesses and lives all along the US- Canada divide.
Along the watch tower
From the top of Thousand Islands Tower, the view of the stunning St. Lawrence Seaway can stretch for dozens of miles on both sides of the border.
Heidi Linckh owns and operates the tower along with her partner. The Canadian tourist attraction is just minutes from the land border. She’s worried the border reopening this late in the summer season will make little difference to their business prospects.
“For us, it’s too late, yes, it’s too late. The season is gone,” she said. “If you were making your summer plans, you already made them. So, the normal tourists we see here are not coming.”
On a personal level, she also said she’s a bit worried about the surging rate of infections in the United States, but from a business perspective, she said they need all the business they can get right now.
Striking a balance about when and how to reopen to international tourists and keeping employees safe has been a trying experience for many small business owners all along the border.
Canada says it so far remains committed to reopening its borders to vaccinated international travelers in September. They, like those coming from the United States, will have to prove they are fully vaccinated with one of four vaccines approved in Canada and will have to present a negative result from a Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of entering Canada.
But even as Masters enters Canada, she said she remains worried that the border may close again. She hopes both governments will work collaboratively to keep things safe but also open.
“For humanity, we can’t go backwards.”
Top image: A view of the Thousand Islands Bridge and the St. Lawrence Seaway. (Photo by Paula Newton/CNN)