A friend sent me a jaunty video about the U.S./ Canada border this past week. It doesn’t break new ground or anything like that, but it’s pretty interesting. Raise your hand if you thought the U.S./Canada border mostly followed the 49th parallel in a straight line. Then watch the video. There are zigs and zags, at least one pronounced bump and several severed communities.
The vignette is by C. P. G. Grey, who just likes explaining complicated things in quick little videos. He’s done a bunch. Most are about geography, such as: “The Difference between United Kingdom, Great Britain and England explained” and “Can Texas secede from the Union?” (Answer: pretty much no).
Good fun! But I digress. Back to our border. First, if this topic is of interest to you, give the video a watch. (The whole thing is 5:26 minutes and it goes fast.) Second, consider the unique circumstances for residents in places like Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, Washington State’s Point Roberts or – closer to home – Derby Line, Vermont.
The spouse and I did a three-day weekend get away to Vermont a few years ago, mainly to go see Derby Line, especially the famous Haskell Free Library and Opera House, where the border cuts right through the main reading room.
Unfortunately, we went just when the web-posted summer hours shifted to shorter fall hours. The main goal of that trip – seeing the interior of the library – was unavailable for the rest of our visit. (It had closed by the time we arrived after 2 pm on a Saturday and was also closed for the Monday holiday.) We had a good time anyway, but shall have to return to tour the interior of both attractions.
You might think it foolish to build a public attraction smack on the border. But that decision harkens back to a simpler time – missed by many – in terms of living together with fewer formalities.
Indeed, the people of Derby Line have been much put-upon now that tighter border security can make crossing the street a criminal activity. (Residents are supposed to detour and check in at the border station every time internal village trips take them from one country to the other.)
It’s easy to decry what may seem like foolish over-kill. But lawbreakers do exist and some will take advantage of fuzzy zones like Derby Line, as detailed in this National Post article about gun-runners and border-jumpers along that “porous” Quebec-Vermont crossing.
Most of the time the rules have been ratcheted up by U.S. officials in response to post-9/11 concerns. But sometimes it’s the Canadians who want tighter security, as in the case of the RCMP’s flowerpot barrier.
Feel free to add your own stories about border or border crossing quirks, or wishes for how you’d prefer things to go.