PHOTOS: Loved ones reunite at an oasis on closed U.S.-Canada border

In this photo taken May 17, 2020, rhododendrons bloom along a path leading to Peace Arch Park at the border between the U.S. and Canada, in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken May 17, 2020, people walk back and forth across the border between the U.S. and Canada in Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken May 17, 2020, two people embrace after meeting at the border between the U.S. and Canada at Peace Arch Park, where traffic is almost nonexistent, in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken May 17, 2020, sweethearts Hannah Smith, left, of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Jabree Robinson, of Bellingham, Wash., sit on the base of the Peace Arch as they visit at the border between Canada and the U.S. at Peace Arch Park, in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken May 17, 2020, de Rham family members from the U.S. and Canada visit at the border between the countries in Peace Arch Park, in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Alec de Rham sat with his back against a stone obelisk marked “International Boundary” as he and his wife visited with a daughter they hadn’t seen in 10 weeks.

Hannah Smith took a bus and a bicycle from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the border to meet her “main person,” Jabree Robinson, of Bellingham, Washington.

And beside a large, white arch symbolizing U.S.-Canadian friendship, Lois England and Ian Hendon kissed giddily, reunited for a few hours after the longest separation of their three-year relationship.

Families, couples and friends — separated for weeks by the pandemic-fueled closing of the border between the U.S. and Canada — are flocking to Peace Arch Park, an oasis on the border where they can reunite, and touch, and hug.

The park covers 42 acres (17 hectares) of manicured lawn, flower beds, and cedar and alder trees, extending from Blaine, Washington, into Surrey, B.C., at the far western end of the 3,987-mile (6146-km) contiguous border. As long as they stay in the park, visitors can freely roam from the U.S. to the Canadian side, and vice versa, without showing so much as a passport.

It’s a frequent site of picnics and sometimes weddings, not to mention an area for travellers to stretch their legs when holiday traffic clogs the ports of entry. And for now it’s one of just a few areas along the along the entire border where those separated by the closure can meet.

ALSO READ: B.C. traveller fined $1,000 for not following mandatory social-isolation rules

Officials closed the park in mid-March over coronavirus concerns. The U.S. side reopened early this month, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee eased some of the restrictions in his stay-home order, and the Canadian side reopened two weeks ago. England, of Sumas, Washington, said she cried when Hendon called to give her the news and they quickly made plans to meet.

England said she and Hendon have generally been careful about social distancing, but there was no thought of keeping 6 feet apart when they saw each other.

“I was really getting depressed over it — this was a huge reprieve,” she said.

It typically takes 40 minutes for England to get to Hendon’s home in Surrey, and they have usually seen each other at least once a week since they met online three years ago. Hendon, an electrician, has kept busy with work during the pandemic, while England has spent time with her daughter and her mother, who live nearby.

The couple chat by Skype almost every morning, but England missed Hendon so badly a few weeks ago that she tried to enter Canada as an “essential” visitor — a category reserved for medical workers, airline crews or truckers hauling crucial goods. Canadian guards turned her away.

One reunion was not enough. The next day, they returned with a barbecue and steaks.

About a half-hour drive to the east, other families met where roads on either side closely parallel a small ditch marking the border. Visitors set up chairs across from each other and had long chats; there’s less freedom to touch there.

Before they tried it, Tim and Kris Browning thought it might be too hard to see each other without touching. Kris lives north of the border in Abbotsford, where she is a hospital cook, and Tim lives just south, where he works as an electrician for a berry grower. They married in 2014 after meeting online; the virus has delayed Tim’s application to move to Canada.

But chatting across the ditch and a rusty guard rail, or in a nearby raspberry field owned by Tim’s employer, has become a weekly highlight — much better than a device, they said.

“It’s been really heartwarming to see all the families out, and everyone’s been so nice,” said Tim, who usually spends three days a week with Kris and her two children in Canada. “One Border Patrol agent came by and said, ‘Why aren’t you hugging your wife? Go on, hug your wife!’”

Gene Johnson, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

The influenza vaccine will be available at no cost starting Monday in Alberta. “The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs," says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hinshaw urges Albertans to get flu shot as COVID cases jump by 332

Alberta’s central zone now has 132 active COVID-19 cases

The Bellows family on vacation last year in Mexico. L-R: Angel, Ryan, Darrel, Grace and Michael. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey community rallying behind family after cancer diagnosis

Michael Bellows, 12, a ‘strong, resilient kid’ says father

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is still hopeful about the Keystone pipeline if there’s a change in government in the U.S. next month, saying Alberta has been engaging with American officials from both sides of the aisle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Carolyn Kaster
Alberta premier says he’s still hopeful about Keystone, even if Biden elected

The Alberta government has agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion as equity in the project

Most Read