Chris Causey can only reminisce these days about the walleye fishing, swimming and paddleboarding that he and his St. Paul family are now missing on their 22 acres on a Rainy Lake island, where Canada’s summertime twilight fades long and slow into the night.
“I consider it heaven on Earth,” Causey said last week. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world.”
But for months, he and other Minnesotans have been barred from their soul-nurturing Canadian lakeside retreats during the nation’s prohibition on American visitors to thwart the spread of coronavirus, and their lament and resignation continue to grow with the passing season.
Canada’s ban on discretionary crossings by Americans began March 21 as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mission to send the highly contagious virus into further retreat.
It since has been renewed monthly through July 21, with no indication that many members of Congress from Minnesota and other northern states will prevail in lobbying to have it loosened or lifted altogether amid the troubling surge of infections in several parts of the United States. Add to that a recent poll of Canadians showing overwhelming support for telling leisure-seeking Americans: Stay out.
Amid growing media reports that another month will be tacked on, Trudeau said Monday at a news conference that border discussions “are ongoing” with the United States, and “we will have more to say later this week, I’m sure.”
Essential crossings along the world’s longest border between two nations are allowed for workers such as health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers moving food and medical goods in both directions.
Upon entry, whether showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not, arrivals must go directly to their destination and quarantine for 14 days. However, someone who crosses on a regular basis for nondiscretionary reasons, such as a medical worker or a truck driver, would likely not be subject to quarantine requirements.
Tourism, recreation and entertainment are deemed nonessential for one nation’s citizens to enter the other’s by land, sea, air or rail. And that includes to a vacation home.
“For secondary property, for that kind of travel, it is deemed nonessential,” Ariel Delouya, consul general of Canada in Minneapolis, said Tuesday afternoon. “We understand, obviously, the frustration this causes ... in implementing this policy. It is really about mitigating this disease.”
As for when a decision on the fate of the travel ban would be made, Delouya said, “My guess is we’ll probably hear something by the weekend.”
‘Untenable for communities’
Causey describes the westward view from his “off the grid” hideaway roughly 13 crow-flying miles north of the U.S.-Canada border as “vast water and myriad islands.”
His closest neighbor is at least a mile away. He said he and the others stay in touch on marine radio “sharing pie recipes, fishing stories, seeking clarification on cribbage rules and complaining about the weather.”
As Canada’s entry ban stays locked in place, the 57-year-old husband and empty-nest father of three keeps tabs on his property from 500 miles away. He has someone on the island check every couple of weeks on his cabin, adjacent cottage and other structures. He was last there in March, just before the travel curtain fell.
“Between the mice, brown squirrels and the black bears, there will be consequence for land owners who are not able to tend to their property,” said Causey, who estimated that typically he’s on the island about a third of the time from mid-May to mid-October.
“I just can’t allow myself to obsess over what is out of my control,” he said. “As sad as I am, I care more about the people who live in those [Canadian] communities and protecting them.”
Brian Higgins of Wayzata is spending the summer far from his four-season place along 100 feet of lakeshore between Lake of the Woods to the west and Rainy Lake to the east.
“I guess I’ll go fish on Lake Minnetonka,” rather than on Ontario’s Clearwater Lake, said Higgins, now that he’s bought his first Minnesota fishing license in 13 years.
Higgins spelled out his case in a letter as a constituent to U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips to be allowed back into Canada so he can at least put away the snowmobiles, mow the lawn and see what might be spoiled in the fridge.
The Democrat responded to Higgins that “restricting the ability of U.S. citizens that own homes ... north of the Canadian border to visit and manage those properties hurts not only their economic vitality, but also that of the hospitality and tourism industries in those areas.”
Phillips’ reply went on to say his staff is in contact with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “and will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to expediently resolve this issue.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, whose district runs along the eastern half of the Minnesota-Canada border, has been lobbying leadership in both nations for the crossing limitations to be eased.
The Duluth Republican is among more than two dozen House members in both parties who sent a letter last week to acting DHS Commissioner Chad Wolf and his counterpart in Canada, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, pushing for the border’s reopening.
“Continuing to extend border restrictions at 30-day intervals is untenable for the communities that have been separated from family and unable to tend to their property for over three months,” the letter from Stauber and his colleagues read. “We are asking that the United States and Canada immediately craft a comprehensive framework for phased reopening of the border … in order to restore the social bond that unites our two nations.”
Katherine Cuplinskas, spokeswoman for the Canadian emergency preparedness minister, declined in an e-mail exchange late last week to address the fate of the travel ban but pointed out, “Our absolute priority is the health and safety of Canadians. That is why we want to be clear that decisions about Canada’s border are made by Canadians, for Canadians.”
Collin Cook of Minneapolis sympathizes with Canada’s desire not to make fending off the virus any more difficult than it already is.
“I totally understand from the Canadian perspective,” said Cook, whose family has 1¼ acres on Rainy Lake’s Red Gut Bay. “They have a much lower caseload than we do.”
This summer, Cook opted to go with his wife and their 7- and 5-year-old daughters to Lost Lake, just west of Eagle River in northern Wisconsin.
“The girls have been doing quite a bit of picking apart what they don’t like about this place” compared to their usual Canadian retreat, the 44-year-old data consultant said. “They want their bunk beds.”
The rate of new coronavirus infections continues to plummet in Canada, which has recorded more than 108,000 cases of coronavirus and nearly 8,800 deaths. New cases peaked at 2,760 on May 3 to a low of 221 on Saturday.
In contrast, total coronavirus infections in the United States has surged past 3 million. Deaths in the U.S. are climbing sharply as well, now topping 135,000.
“When Canadians see the video of crowded beaches and bars in the U.S., I don’t blame them for looking at us with dismay,” said Causey, the part-time Rainy Lake island inhabitant. “They’re thinking, ‘Hey, we love you guys, but we’ll wait for you until this thing passes.’
“As much as I want to be there and now mourn the loss of this season, I completely understand. … They’re hunkering down and being really smart about it.”