POINT ROBERTS, Wash. — For more than a year and half now, nonessential travel across America’s land borders has been virtually nonexistent. The same went for the ability of cross-border families to see one another.
“I don't think there was any thought to the effect that it would have on the families,” said Christina Winkler of the International Peace Arch Association. “It was just, we're shutting it down.”
Since then, driving over the border to see a family member for the day became impossible.
That’s where Galen Wood stepped in.
“It's been a bit of a strain,” she said.
Wood leads the board for Circle of Care, an organization in the small community of Point Roberts, Washington. The organization helps the elderly with things like chores, meals and getting to appointments.
“Because the family members were not able to come here, it put an extra burden on Circle of Care,” Wood said. “The isolation has been very hard. And I think it's taken its toll on people's demeanor and on their perspective and outlook.”
Point Roberts is surrounded by water and shares a land border only with Canada. When the border there closed to visitors in March of last year, families were virtually cut off.
“The families — some half live on the Canadian side, half live here — they haven't been able to see each other during the majority of this pandemic and being trapped sometimes, for a better word, in five square miles of the United States below the 49th [parallel],” said Point Roberts Fire Chief Christopher Carleton of Whatcom County Fire District 5.
He said families made due by opting for resiliency, right up against the border wall.
“We have a place called Monument Park here, and it's separated by basically just a stone wall,” Chief Carleton said. “And, you know, a lot of families have gotten together there, so they've at least been able to hug each other and see each other.”
With the land borders fully reopening on Nov. 8, there’s hope family relationships can begin to thrive again.
“It's going to be a godsend for the families,” Wood said.
Yet, there’s also a desire that elected leaders at the highest levels might learn a lesson from this and work to prevent a repeat.
“We hope that the laws can change in the future, that this never happens to our community again,” Chief Carleton said.
With the border soon reopening, residents see a chance for the community to become whole again.
“It may never be exactly like it was before, but I think we're getting there,” Wood said. “I think we just have to be a little more patient.”
It’s a patience that’s stretched 20 months and counting.