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After Border-crossing Closure Announcement, Travelers Wary of Driving Through Canada


U.S. and Canadian officials announced Wednesday that they’ll close all border crossings Wednesday and halted all but what they call “nonessential travel” in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s not immediately clear when the closure will take effect or how non-essential will be defined.  But the announcement caught some travelers by surprise.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Wednesday press conference in Ottawa that the closures will affect tourists and others who aren’t traveling on official business.

“I just spoke to President Trump again this morning, and we have agreed that both Canada and the United States will temporarily restrict all nonessential travel across the Canada-U.S. border,” Trudeau said in an address from Ottawa.

“Travelers will no longer be permitted to travel across the border for recreation and tourism. In both our countries, we’re encouraging people to stay home. We’re telling our citizens not to visit their neighbors if they absolutely don’t have to.”

Delta Junction-area residents Shellie Mathews and Bill Johnson had intended to visit family in Canada this week while they were on their way back from a trip to the states. But Mathews said their initial enthusiasm for the visit went away after days of news reports about growing concern over the coronavirus threat on both sides of the border.

“At first they said they said yes, wanted us to,” she said, “and then as days went by, and the more cautionary tales came out, they said ‘Y’know, maybe it’s not a good idea.’”

Credit Shellie Mathews
Bill Johnson and Shellie Mathews in Utah in Utah, a stopover during their recent trip around the western United States.

Mathews said Wednesday that she and Johnson didn’t know anything about the pending closure when they entered Canada on Tuesday through the crossing at Sumas, Washington. But she said Canadian border officials were curious about the route they took around the western United States.

“They did ask where you’ve been traveling, and they asked if you’d crossed any ocean. They asked if you had been sick.”

Mathews says she and Johnson got to Dawson Creek today and are now headed north on the Alaska Highway.

“There’s not many people on the road once you get north of Fort St. John. So, it’s pretty quiet out here on the Alcan.”

Trudeau emphasized in his speech that some trans-border travel will be allowed, which he said includes Americans and Canadians crossing to do “essential work and for other urgent reasons.” And President Trump said in a Tweet he posted Wednesday that trade will not be affected.

That was good news to Jeff Lisac the manager of Delta’s IGA Food Cache. He says border-crossing closures might be an issue during the summer, when the store gets many of its products brought up the Alaska Highway.

“It comes up over the highway in the summertime. But in the wintertime, it all comes over the barge,” he said, adding that this time of year, most products are trucked up the Glenn and Richardson highways from the Port of Anchorage.

Delta Junction farmer Randy Peterson said he’s decided to hold off on a business trip to the states he’d been planning to pick up some farming equipment.

“We was going into Colorado and Kansas and then cross over into Missouri,” he said. “We got a combine and a hay mower and just basically some odds and ends.”

Peterson says he just got back from a trip Outside that he had to cut short after hearing worrisome news about the spread of the novel coronavirus. And he says depending on how the situation develops, he may try to get back from the states to pick up the equipment and bring it back up the Alaska Highway and have it ready for use this summer.

“We’re going to try to go back out after the first of the month, if this thing breaks,” Peterson said. But, he added, if concerns over the coronavirus threat remain high, he’ll just leave the equipment where it sits and hunker down at his farm outside Delta.

“It’s just depending on what the virus does,” he said. “If it doesn’t ease up, I have no intention of going to get it (the equipment) anyway, because it’s not worth it to me. I think this place is as good a place to be as any right now.”

Likewise, Mathews says she and Johnson are looking forward to waiting out the coronavirus scare at their home on Tenderfoot Hill, a few miles north of Shaw Creek.

“It’s easy to self-isolate at Tenderfoot Hill!” she said.

Mathews says she and Johnson hope to be home by the weekend.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.