Many Canadians have reason to celebrate after a long 19 months of pandemic-induced land border closures.
Chris Keays and his family are no exception.
“I’m very, very pleased that they’re reopening the border,” he said, of the Biden administration’s decision to allow fully vaccinated Canadians into the United States.
The Montreal-area resident has deep connections to Vermont, forged over decades spent at the family cottage in the Green Mountains.
“We would pretty much be down there every single weekend, and holidays, so we spent a lot of time, Keays said. “As you can imagine, we have a lot of close connections with the community there … so it’s going to be a real relief to be able to get back there soon.”
Their neighbours to the south are equally ecstatic.
“I don’t think I could have woken up happier that morning to hear that there is movement,” said Kristy Kennedy, vice-president of marketing and tourism for the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it was just jubilee. I was just so excited to hear the news.”
The loss of Canadian travellers has had a huge impact in the area, according to Kennedy, with visitor spending down 24 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
“We were able to garnish some travellers in 2020 from within our state. So New York City coming up to the Adirondacks and things like that, ” she said. “But to still be down 24 per cent, I think again is a really good indicator of what we were missing.”
Kennedy also hopes to see a jump in traffic at Plattsburgh International Airport.
The airport acts as a major departure point for many Canadians, especially from Quebec and some from Ontario, who drive across the border to fly within the continental U.S.
“When everything is going really smoothly, we see about 82 per cent of our passengers from Quebec and even into Ontario as well, Kennedy said.
“So to lose 82 per cent of your travellers was definitely a big deal.“
She says the November reopening comes just in time for Canadian snowbirds looking to return to their winter travel destinations.
“We have a lot of Quebec travellers who have second homes down south, especially in Florida,” Kennedy said. “We have a low-cost carrier that goes that direction. It’s perfect timing for them to be able to book those flights.”
And while many are thrilled at the news, for others like Robin Smith, not much will change.
Smith lives in the Canadian border town of Stanstead, Que. From her window, she can see straight into Derby Line, Vt. but she can’t afford to make the trip.
She says it’s a predicament many living in border towns are facing because of Canadian rules for re-entry.
“I do not understand the requirement for a COVID test to come back and forth into Canada,” she said, adding the cost of a PCR COVID test — at $250 — is prohibitive, especially for people used to making day trips to visit with neighours, relatives and friends across the border.
As far as she’s concerned, until Canada removes the requirement, the border remains effectively closed for border dwellers such as herself.
Meanwhile, Keays said he’s looking forward to a weekend getaway stateside with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
What he’s less eager to do, is telling his two children— aged 12 and five — that they won’t be coming along.
“That’s going to be a tough one to explain,” Keays said.
Both his kids are unvaccinated, making travelling more complicated.
And while they would be exempt from having to quarantine upon returning home, under current Canadian travel rules, they wouldn’t be allowed to attend school for 14 days.
And like Smith, Keays expressed concern over COVID testing requirements, not only in terms of costs but also logistics.
“You know, it just wouldn’t be worth it to go down if there was too many implications there with regards to to testing,” he said.
For now, Keays said he doesn’t foresee any family trips back to the cottage for another few months.
“Hopefully everything will be back to normal by spring,” he said.
— With files from Global News’ Tim Sargeant and Gloria Henriquez
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