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U.S. Canada border reopening set for August, a relief for Michiganders

Traverse City resident June Thaden
Traverse City resident June Thaden, 89, has traveled to a family cottage in Canada since she was 7. She was overjoyed by the prospect of a border reopening later this summer. (Courtesy photo)

Oct. 13: After 18 months: Welcome back, Canada, if you’re vaccinated
July 21: Michigan tourism sector fumes at new delay in opening border to Canadians

Traverse City resident June Thaden had a simple reaction when she learned the border to Canada may open to U.S. visitors in just a few weeks.

“Oh, goody,” she said Friday. “This would mean everything to my whole family.”

Like a good number of Michiganders, Thaden, 89, has a family tradition of crossing the border for vacations. Since age 7, she has visited a treasured family cabin north of Sault Ste. Marie that her father bought from a trapper in 1939.

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“I have vacationed there every year except two, including during World War II when Dad saved his gas tokens to have enough gas to make the trip from Midland. I so missed being there.”

Reports emerged Thursday that Canada expects to reopen its 5,525-mile border with the U.S. by mid-August for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The news followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call with premiers Thursday night, in which Trudeau’s provincial and territorial counterparts “expressed their support of reopening plans.” An official summary of that meeting set a mid-August reopening “if our current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue.”

Trudeau’s government previously suggested that border restrictions would not ease until at least 75 percent of Canada’s population were fully vaccinated. But that appears to have changed as nearly 80 percent of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to all nonessential travel since March 2020. That initial agreement between the two countries at the onset of the pandemic has been extended on a rolling monthly basis.

The latest extension is expected to expire July 21.

Trudeau has adopted a cautious approach in the face of mounting pressure to reopen the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel. In interviews this week, he cited concerns about the Delta variant and case studies of countries that reintroduced restrictions due to a spike in new cases. He stressed that any ease of border restrictions would have to be introduced in “phased” next steps.

The closed border has been a challenge for property owners and visitors from both countries. Michigan business proponents say it’s prolonging damage to the state’s $26 billion tourist sector, which saw more than 1 million Canadian visitors a year before the pandemic struck.

Passenger traffic through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel fell 90 percent from April 2019 to April 2020, as COVID raced through Michigan: from nearly 350,000 passenger cars in 2019 to 36,729 in 2020, according to the the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association, a bi-national association represents bridge and tunnel traffic between the province of Ontario and New York and Michigan.

It was the same for Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, which recorded more than 570,000 passenger cars in April 2019 but only 52,000 in April of last year.

Sterling Heights resident Nina Perrone, who owns a cottage in Canada on the shore of Lake Huron, remains a skeptic about any promises to reopen. For more than a year, she’s been eager to check on her property amid reports of beach erosion along the lakefront.

“I am just disappointed by the whole thing,” she told Bridge Michigan. “They can’t even allow me to my property where nobody is. If we just went there by ourselves, we are not going to be transmitting a disease to anyone.

“I have a hard time believing it’s going to happen. They keep saying next month we’re going to do it, then it doesn’t happen.”

For Thaden, of Traverse City, the prospect of an open border is a cause for celebration among her entire extended family, which includes four children, seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

“It means my whole family, including my great-grandkids down in Missouri, and family here in Michigan, will be able to go to someplace we love,” she said.

As for the requirement that she be vaccinated, that’s not a problem. After frontline medical workers, she was among the first to be vaccinated in Grand Traverse County.

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