The United States won't open its border to visitors from Canada until August 21, the White House announced on Wednesday — dealing a blow to hospitality and other businesses that have long relied on tourists from Canada.
“I’m sure the congressional delegations and governors of every border state to the north are probably furious right now, and rightly so,” said Jeff Lawson, who is vice president of tourism and marketing at Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I’m pretty upset about it.”
Northern state governors and members of Congress have been pushing the White House for weeks to open the border. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has shown impatience with the White House, especially after the Canadian government this week announced that travelers would be able to enter Canada from the United States on August 9 without quarantining in a hotel “provided the COVID situation is under control.” Scott said he has asked the White House to reciprocate, saying it is now safe to do so.
But on Wednesday, the White House announced that restrictions on non-essential travel will stay in place for the country’s northern and southern land borders until at least August 21.
Gloria Jackson of Canaan, whose family has long run Jackson's Lodge, a group of vacation cabins on Wallace Pond abutting the border, thought about families that have been forced apart when she heard the news.
The fence between the U.S. and Canada at Jackson's Lodge in Canaan
“Since the border has been closed, we’ve had families ask permission to talk to their families in Canada,” she said. The Canadian family members stand on the side lawn of a house located just several yards inside Canada; the U.S. family members stand on the grass among the cabins.
“They visit across the fence,” she said.
She remembers walking back and forth across the Canadian border with her five sisters anytime she wanted to when she was growing up. “We used to go over and fish,” said Jackson, who bought Jackson’s Lodge from her parents in 1986 and operates it with her partner. “There was no fence back then.”
These days, there’s a chest-high fence partly buried in lilies, and sensors to let border officials from both sides know if anyone tries to swim or jump across.
Jackson said she learned about the White House announcement from a Canadian customer who had been emailing her about visiting in August.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.
In normal times, Canadian travelers make up a large proportion of Vermont visitors. Some Burlington-area businesses, including marinas, rely on Québécois.
Meanwhile, Canadians can fly into the U.S. For now, the chamber's Lawson said, Vermont is “kind of a flyover state.” There are no direct flights from Canada to Burlington, but Canadians can fly elsewhere.
“Instead of driving all the way up here, they can just fly into another destination somewhere else and visit there instead,” he said.