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The Plastic Curtain After 9/11

Pearl Harbor   ---   JFK’s Assassination    ---  9/11    ---  Like generations before us we have burned into our memories exactly where we were and what we were doing when national tragedy struck. It has been 14 years since 9/11 and the reverberations of that day are still shaking our island world.

Our first guests of the season arrived in June and we prepared for a day cruise through the beautiful Admiralty Islands. We used to anchor and have lunch in Canadian waters, but when border restrictions tightened after 9/11, we adopted the habit of cruising back to U.S. waters to anchor, have our lunch and swim. Our Canadian island experience was a float-by experience only.

A casual conversation with a neighbor informed us that we might want to reconsider. It seemed the rules about border crossing have changed again—or perhaps the rules had always been like this and how they enforced the rules has changed. Semantics aside, we learned that it is now imperative that every person in our boat have a passport or Nexiscard. We checked. They didn’t, so the trip was a no go.

In fact, if we enter into Canadian waters even for a ride, we must call in to the Canadian Border Services.

Instead, we packed a picnic lunch and cruised down the American Channel. We anchored off Wellesley Island with Boldt Castle in full view to have lunch and watched Canadian tour boats slowly circle, but not stop at Boldt Castle.

U.S. tour boats stopped, but the tour boats from Rockport and Gananoque circled. The Gananoque Boat Line has two boats that stop at Boldt Castle each day, but each person on the boat (whether they get off at Boldt Castle or not) must have a passport because the boat is touching U.S. territory. Attendance at Boldt Castle from Gananoque Tour Boats has dropped drastically since 9/11.

An impromptu cruise through the maze of islands beneath the Canadian span of the Thousand Island Bridge or sunset cruise across Eel Bay to Fort Wallace and back are gone.

We used to pop over to Gananoque for ice cream on a sunny afternoon, or gather up a bunch of neighbors and have dinner at the Glen House, but not any more. Too much hassle. Not worth the effort of going to Gan to check in to Canadian authorities and going all the way to Clayton on our way back to check back into the U.S by video phone. If any of those steps are missed, there are hefty fines and the possibility that our boat will be confiscated.

Oh, there are those who shrug their shoulders and risk the possibility of fines and boat confiscation and  cruise anyway. But for me, the fear of getting caught would sap the joy out of any pleasure cruise. While this affects our summer season, it affects local residents’ entire way of life. Many have family and friends on both sides of the International Line. The plastic curtain of border restrictions has forever changed how we enjoy these Thousand Islands.

World events have touched our island world before. During WWII, many couldn’t come to the island because of gas rationing. A pair of oars was important back during the war, just in case one didn’t have enough gas to get back to the island. Boats had to display big numbers on the side of the boats. But after the war, the rationing ceased and the restrictions lessened.

I hope this is a passing phase and as the years wear on the restrictions will lessen and slip away.  But there is a lingering worry. Is this a passing phase? Or is it the new norm? Will this plastic curtain remain? Perhaps become more substantial? Will we forever be islands divided?

By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. You can see Lynn’s 80+ articles here (Yes we celetrated her number 80 in July, 2015.) Lynn helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing, and even get annoyed how life on the border has changed and is changing!

All Photographs by Lynn McElfresh

Posted in: Sports
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Cathy Brown
Comment by: Cathy Brown
Left at: 8:42 AM Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Interesting article, Lynn. Such a shame to lose these freedoms. I hope things do change, for the better.
Betty Ristau
Comment by: Betty Ristau
Left at: 9:28 AM Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Hard to tell, but I'm in the back in an old baby car carrier next to mom. (Anneliese Schlecht). Also with dad Fred Schlecht and grandmother Gladys Schlecht Doust.
Rae Grenell Fournier
Comment by: Rae Grenell Fournier
Left at: 5:01 PM Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Very interesting article. I had assumed that you needed a passport to travel in Canadian waters, even before 9/11. Thanks for the education!
Jeff Pennington
Comment by: Jeff Pennington
Left at: 5:14 PM Friday, September 18, 2015
A Nexus pass can be had for $50 from the border station on Wellesley, good for 5 years ($10/year). It gives you the ability to call in from a reporting station at just about every destination on the Canadian side. Our experience is that we are checked in and enjoying Gan, Brockville, or brunch at the Ivy within 10 minutes of landing. Reporting back into the US is a phone call from the boat. It doesn't feel like a hassle when we are doing it, and the Border security agents on both sides seem to appreciate that we are trying to do the right thing.
Mark Bond
Comment by: Mark Bond
Left at: 11:56 PM Wednesday, October 7, 2015
This policy has NOT been enforced since 9/11, but has been accelerated to the point of stupidity in the last year. Case in point, on the last week of Sept. my wife & I were stopped as we passed the end of Mary Island State Park by an RCMP patroller with an American Coast Guard agent on board telling me that I was being stopped because I had passed into Canadian waters on my way back from the American Channel. Seriously, with all due respect to these fellows that serve a valuable service to our river & country, I felt like asking these guys if they had their measuring tapes out to calculate where the 'border' is & just how far I had 'strayed' into foreign territory. The entire matter has gotten out of hand & ridicules when the people are out on the river for a pleasant evening boat ride & are being harassed by the government agencies that are put there to supposedly protect us. I believe that this has far more to do with the hapless, destructive 'leader' of the United States, his failed policies & a pissing match he has started with every ally, than any 9/11 theory. As if the economies of either country need this intrusion.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 1:06 AM Friday, October 9, 2015
Life long Island summer resident beyond outrage: those rubber boats and alien crews have no- zero ... place on this lovely river. Z E R O.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 1:37 AM Friday, October 9, 2015
Thank you Sue ... and thank you Lynn. Is hugely upsetting to most islanders- with lights flashing as though on patrol in the South Bronx of ancient vintage one quiet evening there above Astounder and off toward Psyche two such queer ducks as they are meeting with radios blaring so as to drown out the loons. Who asked you? This after so many years of the courteous and entirely unflashy Mounted Police- men and women. Is God awful. Go away ghastly intruders. Yes, get out. Phil Sharpless asked once at a summer resident's meeting were he to swim to Clayton and then Gan to report in and out as the 'line' passed some close to Netly there off his then swim dock? Is gross and absurd. Of course you are losing business. Far more serious is the breakdown of a peaceful- of great long standing and viewed on both sides with great pride- international border and boundary community. What do you care. Yes, what do you care.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 2:18 AM Friday, October 9, 2015
On Nexus one calls in ... should, of course, be. Going to shore were you just off Niagara- or even the Wide Waters to fish is a burden. Fine, Canada- go ahead and burden your tourists. I will, for now let this go. I and all level headed river folks condemn where this has already gone and are fearful more policies further damaging our cooperative, peaceful, international river community, will ensue.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 3:40 PM Friday, October 9, 2015
And so ... I'll bet few knew the customs agents graciously came to islands. There at the, Axeman (Island) Regatta the uniformed official checking in- for yrs. good folks who happened to be from the other great nation. Yes. And the, Lightning sailors - Fleet - from T.I. Park graciously a-tow we see them as they round Canoe Point and charge up our way to make and help. Make a large fleet for the regatta races and help in any way they could. God bless them. What is to become of them now? What is to become of our community now? What? U tell me Mr. Off-ficial who believes these rubber things are in any way needed, useful, attractive- kind! And you do this also where u are on this great river now even fifty (50) miles along our shores and these gross rubber boat crews and busyness-troublemaking hurts all that and all of us. Universal fart all up and down the lovely St. Lawrence ... don't u agree. I know you do.
Darlene Richardson
Comment by: Darlene Richardson
Left at: 11:55 AM Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Oh my so sad, I so enjoyed going over to Canada on our boat cruises when we visited!

It looks like you opened a can of worms with this article!!! However I understand their frustration!