Canadians Going South: The Border Experience

Some do it a little more regularly than others, but at some point in time we all drive down to visit our American neighbours.

Often times it’s a dreaded experience. We pray to all the Gods that we make it through quickly, and some times our prayers are answered. But more often than not we’re in for a long wait.

Equally as bad, is the anticipation of not knowing what kind of mood the border patrol guard will be in that day.

Even worse, is when it’s finally your turn, you feel like a criminal. Even though you have a clean record and nothing to hide, you still wonder what they’re gonna have on you.

It was my trip last weekend that inspired me to write this post.

I recently made a weekend trip to Louisville Kentucky. From where we are in Ontario, the Windsor/ Detroit border was our ideal crossing. It would be the first time I had ever been that far west (sad, I know!) and of course first time crossing at this part of the border.

There was a bus load of us. 53 people. It was my seventh time crossing the border with such a large group of people. Two things usually happen when we cross over. Either we grab our passports, get off the bus and line up in a room while they scan our documents, or a guard gets on and collects all our passports, checks them and brings them back.

This time would be different.
When it came our turn, we were very sternly instructed to collect any and all of our baggage and line up outside by the gate. We would then each be asked a number of questions and have all our personal items searched. Bus included. We were told that if we had any fruits or vegetables they would be confiscated.

I started to feel like a felon. Like we were getting off the prison bus, but with more baggage.

As the 5 of us girls waited our turn, Linda and another member of group party lit a cigarette. A guard promptly walked over and demanded that there was “No smoking on property belonging to the US government!”

Relief finally came as we got closer, and Sarah would be the one to make the guard crack and lighten the mood.

She was asked, “have you ever been handcuffed or detained?” She replied with a wink and, “no…to the second one.” Man I tell you, that guard became so flustered all he could do was laugh and move her along.

When it was my turn, I was asked, “How many times have you been arrested or detained?” Not ‘have you ever’ but HOW MANY TIMES. I had answered no, but was reminded later by my sister that we have in fact been detained once (long story short I got a $65 trespassing ticket and a ride along)

When it was Linda’s turn, she had to admit to the fact that she had a container full of cherries and carrots (which, let’s be real here, were probably imported from the US anyways) the guard looked them over and allowed her to keep them. Which was interesting because they made someone else get rid of her oranges.

We made it through the crossing in an hour and a half. Not too shabby.

I’ve had much worse wait times at the border. Like the time some friends and I were going to do some urban exploration in upstate New York.
Myself and a local friend, Tim, met up with two other guys that we knew from an exploration website. Corey from Nova Scotia, and Chris from Scotland. Chris I had met 3 years prior when I visited Scotland.
This border crossing was a nightmare. The best we could come up with as at as our ‘story’ goes, was that we had all met on a photography website and were coming to New York to photograph landscapes. Because that sounds a lot less threatening than “we’re here to illegally trespass onto government property to photograph an abandoned power plant.” Well it turns out the Chris didn’t have the proper documentation to be in the US in the first place, so we were held at the border for four hours, while it all got sorted out.

Second worst border experience was in November 2012. Though this wasn’t necessarily bad. My Dad had an Aunt down in Florida who had passed away. He had spent a month down there helping his parents sort out her estate, and it was decided they would load up her truck with things they wanted and drive it back to Canada. Because of my Dads health concerns, I took a week off and flew down to Florida to do the drive with him, so he wouldn’t be alone. Certain documents were needed to bring everything across the border. My Grandfather made all the arrangements, handed us our documents and away we went.

We had a deadline. We had to be at the border no later than 4:00 pm on the Friday. Otherwise the truck and us would be stuck in the states until the following Monday.

We made it in time. Except for one thing. The documents. It wasn’t until we attempted to cross that we were told we couldn’t because we didn’t have the ORIGINAL documents to bring the truck across. My Grandfather had kept the originals, and gave us copies. We had to call him and have him UPS the parcel with original documents overnight. We were stuck until Monday. But I had to work. We quickly came up with a plan.

We drove as close as we could get to the border at Niagara Falls and grabbed a hotel room. My husband drove to Hamilton to pick up my Mother and brought her to Niagara. Once we received word of her arrival, we traded places. Both of us walking across the border to meet our other halves.

See, not a necessarily a bad experience just an inconvenient one. It could be a lot worse. I’ve been waiting at the border and have watched people being led away in handcuffs.

My friends mother told us how she was once detained and banned from the US for a whole year over a chocolate bar. They would bring their young children across the border for dinner and to do some shopping. They had nothing to declare on this trip. But the guard wasn’t satisfied. She asks about the unopened candy bar in the back seat and where it was bought. She admits it was purchased in the states. The guard says, “yea, and you didn’t declare it.” BAM. Banned from the States for a year.

But it’s interesting how different the border experience is when you’re returning to Canada. Usually I’m asked very little questions beyond, “anything to declare, and did you have a good time?” The best is when we return from our group paranormal investigations. I’ve been asked a number of times, “did you bring any ghosts back with you?” To which our usual response is, “we made sure they brought their passports.” Which gets a rise out of the guards. Last weekend our border guard barely even looked at our passports! She got on the bus and asked us to hold them up and she walked up and down the bus taking a quick glance and sent us on our way. We were in and out in under 45 minutes.

So tell me, what’s your worst, best, funniest, craziest border crossing story? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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One thought on “Canadians Going South: The Border Experience

  1. 2 hours in a traffic jam at Queenston-Lewiston the Saturday before Christmas, trying to get home to my folks’ place in Ithaca. Never again. Beyond the Q-L bridge’s usual traffic woes, because I’m American and my husband is Canadian we typically do well coming and going.

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