Yer obedient scribe reflected on the state of the US–Canada border this week as he passed a few pleasant days in Sault Ste Marie, the Ontario jewel set on the edge of Lake Superior country. The Sault and its American twin are border town throwbacks, where the Ambassador Bridge to Michigan remains an unlatched screen door compared to the Homeland Security fortresses and their grim guardians installed at most US points of entry since 9/11.
For we Canucksters who worshipped U.S. college hoops and lived only a 90 minute drive from Buffalo during the analog age, the border with the States was where you lied to the Canadian Customs buckos about how much beer you were toting home after a Little Big Four doubleheader at the Falls Convention Centre, where mighty mite Calvin Murphy killed it for Niagara’s Purple Eagles, after stuffing our faces with Anchor Bar chicken wings and dirt cheap drafts. Then as now, the pause that really refreshes is brewed in Toronto, imported south and sold in New York State cheaper than the exact same suds on offer here – the consequence of our smothering, regressive socialist taxes that fund Canada’s initiative-sapping universal health care programmes so offensive to every right-thinking free enterpriser. Ask anybody.
But the border…not so long ago, there was no question that Canada’s best friend on earth was the Great Republic. We tolerated American insularity (“Where is Calgary, anyway? Do they hunt seals there, too?”). We found continual humour in the States’ stunningly low-level of northern neighbour knowledge (“My friend Tom lives up your way in Toronto, do you know him?”). We were only a little hurt when American presidents visited tin pot African dictatorships more often than they broke bread with good old Johnny Canuck. We knew in our hearts that the elephant and mouse elements of our relationship did not displace the essential grassroots, citizen-based goodwill shared by most people on both sides of the 49th. Those days are mostly gone. Canadians visitors are largely regarded by contemporary American gatekeepers (and far too large a segment of the national population) as just another potential foreign threat to national security. Passports please, state your business, and God help you if there was a joint found in your pocket back in ’79 – yer out!
The Sault border is a throwback because the regional cross-border culture occasionally reveals a cheerful disdain for the Homeland rules. The locals on either side go across the bridge, they buy what they like, and the border boys and girls might even smile and wave. Anti-terrorist protocols be damned, customs duties, too…there’s a sale at Mike’s Discount Liquor across the river. ‘Twere it ever thus…we are friends, after all.