Rachel Patenaude – LJI Reporter
For those living in communities along the Canada-United States border, it’s not uncommon to have family and friends on the “other side”. Whether they cross regularly for work, fun, or family, people on both sides tend to feel like they’re part of one big community, not two. When the border closed in March 2020, many were left wondering when they would get to see their loved ones again, and for some, that day still hasn’t come.
For Wendy Bourgeois, who has lived in Hemmingford for most of her life, crossing the border was a regular part of her routine because she had friends, family, and her partner living stateside. When the border closed, she was in Keeseville, N.Y. recovering from surgery at her partner’s house. She decided to stay there, thinking the border would only be closed temporarily; 17 months later, she has still not returned to Hemmingford. “With so much uncertainty and fear, I chose to stay in Keeseville hoping that things would go back to normal sooner rather than later,” she says.
In June of 2020, she and her partner, Brian Bourgeois, were married. “It was a bittersweet decision. Getting married without my family and friends present was very difficult, but realizing that we didn’t ever want to be separated – by a border closure, a pandemic, or any other trial – confirmed our decision,” she says.
Taylor-Ann Hadley, who is also a Hemmingford native, now lives in Altona N.Y. with her partner and their two kids. Most of her family is in Canada, and while she has been able to visit a few times (she is a dual citizen) the closure drastically impacted her life. “I’m currently still in the U.S. separated from my parents, sister, nephews, grandparents, and many loved ones. Having such a limited time [with them] was very difficult, not knowing when I would see them [again],” she says. “It’s been especially hard on my son who’s now three; he’s still young so he doesn’t understand why he can’t just go to his Nana and Papa’s house.” In March of 2021, Hadley had her second child, and most of her family has yet to meet the baby. “We can’t just go visit whenever we’d like and as often as we want, like we did with my son before the pandemic. [It’s] been very difficult for me.”
Trevor Blaise was born in Plattsburgh N.Y. but was raised in Hemmingford. His parents divorced when he was quite young; his Canadian mother stayed in Canada, and his American father stayed in the United States. He has spent most of his life traveling back and forth to spend time with both sides of his family, but that routine has been interrupted. “Being only five minutes from the border and 30 minutes from my dad’s house in Plattsburgh, I used the border so often that it didn’t seem like anything special,” he says. “When the border closed it was a scary feeling, like there was nothing I could do, but I certainly did not think it would last as long as it did.” He has been able to cross over a few times but laments the time he has missed with his American family. During the eight-month period while he couldn’t cross, he and his family would go and sit on either side of a fence on the border to visit, although the RCMP would often be there to interrupt.
For those able to cross the border, it has been a stressful experience. With the regulations constantly changing, and each side having its own rules, it has been difficult to keep up. “Crossing the border during the pandemic has been completely different from your past ‘normal’ experiences,” says Hadley. “It’s nerve-racking because they could just tell you, ‘no, you can’t enter’. Both sides have different regulations, so it makes things more stressful not knowing if you have the right paperwork for them to let you cross.” Both Blaise and Hadley have an advantage as they are dual citizens, but the ever-changing regulations still complicate things. “I don’t think about it daily, but it is sad, and the only thing that makes it better are the little moves that [both countries are making] towards getting the border back to normal,” says Blaise.
Unlike the others, Bourgeois still hasn’t been able to cross, and although she cares deeply for the family she has in the U.S. it has been incredibly hard not being able to see her Canadian family. “We’ve missed so many birthdays, milestones, and special occasions,” she says. “Every day I wonder if my nephew will remember me, or if I’ll still have the friendships I’ve had for most of my life. Every day I wonder when my family and friends will get to know Brian and my stepchildren, and when we will all be able to be celebrating holidays together again.”