The International Bridge connecting Fort Kent, Maine, to Clair, New Brunswick, was devoid of traffic on Monday. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Canadian border opened Monday to most U.S. travelers, including those from border communities that have been divided by nearly a year and a half of intense restrictions on international travel.

But despite months of family separation and huge disruption to the local economy, many St. John Valley residents are still reluctant to “go across.” Those who do face rigorous and expensive testing requirements and proof of vaccination, and must provide extensive documentation through Canada’s travel app, ArriveCAN.

Madawaska resident and Edmundston, New Brunswick, native Diane LaChance is one of the locals who has made it across the border since restrictions eased for families and dual citizens in July. She spent 17 months trying to get across the border to visit her father, Gerald Bouchard, who has advanced lung cancer and lives in Edmundston.

Diane LaChance (right) and her father, Gerald Bouchard are reunited over a meal in Edmundston. Credit: Courtesy of Diane LaChance

In the early days of the pandemic, LaChance received a nightmare call from Bouchard’s doctor, who told her that her father had contracted pneumonia and didn’t have long to live. She needed to get across as soon as she could to see him. LaChance made it into Canada, but arrived at the hospital only to find out the nursing staff had moved him to a different ward — they didn’t want an American visiting him in his condition, she said.

Bouchard survived pneumonia. LaChance remembered her father telling her, “I’m not going to give up until I see my three girls.”

It wasn’t until July that she got her next chance, when Canada began opening for families and dual citizens. After 17 months of worrying that she might never see him again, LaChance finally opened the door of her father’s room at a New Brunswick care facility and got to hug her dad again.

Since then, LaChance has been to Edumundston four more times to visit her father as well as her sisters — one lives in Edmundston, and the other has traveled in from Ontario.

When LaChance tells people — many of them, like her, have family or close friends in Edmundston — about the crossing process, she said the number-one thing that shocks people is the cost of testing.

The PCR test Canada requires costs $140 at Northern Maine Medical Center, and the clinic is only open between 8 and 11 a.m. Once across the border, travelers have to take another test provided at customs — this one self-administered — and ship it to a lab for analysis.

Several Madawaska residents confirmed that the testing requirements, and the associated costs, were keeping them from going across for now.

The U.S. Customs office in Fort Kent was quiet on Monday. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

Even as lines of American tourists formed at border stations across the country this morning, those closest to Canada are waiting for the restrictions to ease even further before they cross. At the crossing in Houlton Monday morning, the line of cars was predominantly out-of-staters.

The International Bridge in Fort Kent was silent and devoid of any traffic Monday morning, as was the U.S. Customs station in the town.

Before the pandemic, Fort Kent resident Rebecca Overton and her young son Clyde, who will turn five in October, were regular guests at restaurants and grocery stores in Edmundston.

“We miss it,” Overton said.

Clyde Overton of Fort Kent enjoys shopping at an Edmundston grocery store prior to the pandemic. Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Overton

Shortly before the border closed, she had enrolled Clyde in swimming lessons at the Sports Pavilion at the University de Moncton, Edmundston campus.  

The family also enjoyed visiting Edmundston grocery stores, favorite restaurants including Le Patrimione and Lotus Blue Cafe, and New Brunswick Botanical Garden.

Clyde is too young to be vaccinated and Overton, a nurse turned homemaker, is not ready herself to receive the vaccine because she is unsure of the long-term side effects.  

“I feel for those who have friends and family in Canada, and how many obstacles there have been to seeing them,” Overton said. “It’s been heartbreaking hearing how much my friends have missed their Canadian friends and family members.”

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.