American citizens who live on Minnesota's Northwest Angle will be exempt from pre- and post-arrival COVID-19 testing when they cross the U.S.-Canada border back into Canada, the Canadian government announced late Friday afternoon.
The looser restrictions will ease travel for those who live at the Angle, a notch of land that juts into Canada but is part of Minnesota.
The Northwest Angle is bordered on three sides by Canada and accessible from Minnesota only by crossing some 40 miles of Lake of the Woods. Driving to the Angle requires traveling through about 40 miles of Manitoba, part of it gravel.
“The government of Canada takes a prudent and responsible approach at the border, by continually monitoring and reviewing available data and scientific evidence to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” said a press release distributed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. “To address unique situations along the Canada-U.S. border … residents of Northwest Angle, Minnesota, traveling by car through Canada to mainland U.S., will be exempt from pre- and post-arrival testing.”
Paul Colson, a Northwest Angle resort owner who had been forced to buy groceries in Canada because of the country’s border-crossing requirements, said Friday’s news is a step in the right direction.
Colson and his wife, Karen, have been featured in Canadian media for their grocery runs, which included a 60-mile drive to Steinbach, Man., last month during a snowstorm and a 50-mile, one-way run last week by boat to Kenora, Ont.
Colson learned about the development about 3 p.m. Friday from Klobuchar’s office.
“This is a baby step, but at least it is a step,” Colson said. “And to get the Canadians to acknowledge that we exist helps considerably, I think, going forward. I really do believe that it took a lot of screaming to get to this point.”
But at the same time, Colson said, Angle residents now are back where they were in February, before Canada implemented the testing requirements as a condition for crossing the border. The area remains off-limits by road to tourism and other nonessential travel.
“When you’re in the middle of a drought, an inch of rain is a victory,” Colson said. “You’re still not out of the drought, but it helps.”
People are paying attention, though, Colson said. He has an interview with a Toronto reporter for CTV, one of Canada’s national television networks, on Sunday afternoon. And this coming week, a crew from the New York Times is planning a trip to the Angle, he said.
“I’ll talk to anybody,” Colson said. “I feel I have a righteous, interesting story” to tell.
The Northwest Angle also drew widespread media attention this past winter for the ice road that resort and business owners developed across the lake. The ice road allowed visitors to reach the Angle without driving through Canada.
Minnesota politicians saw Friday's development as a win, especially after weeks of meetings and public statements urging governments on both sides of the border to make accommodations for Angle residents. Media on both sides of the border have covered the issue and offered opinions as well.
“Since the pandemic began, the Northwest Angle has been effectively cut off, separating Minnesotans from their homes, businesses and loved ones,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a release emailed to the media early Friday evening. “I have advocated for a safe easing of travel restrictions, and this announcement is an important step in the right direction. As more vaccines are distributed, we must continue to work to get cross-border travel back to normal.”
As reported earlier this week in the Herald, Klobuchar this week discussed the border issue during a meeting of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, a panel that gathers to allow exchanges between lawmakers from both countries. Klobuchar is the Senate chairwoman of the U.S. delegation.
Monday, Klobuchar said the travel restrictions for Angle residents attempting to reach Minnesota “is right up there as a challenge.” In a letter she sent to Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Klobuchar said Canada’s “limitations have posed challenges for employees who must travel across the border to reach their workplace and businesses that depend upon cross-border travel to reach customers and access supplies.”
Also Friday, Republican Michelle Fischbach, who represents northwest Minnesota in the U.S. House, said she is “pleased that residents of the Northwest Angle can again travel freely between their homes and the mainland United States.”
However, Fischbach added that “while this is indeed progress, the border remains closed to nonresident travel – and nothing short of a full border reopening can begin to mitigate the many negative effects of the indefinite border closure on Northwest Angle lives and livelihoods. I will continue to aggressively pursue a solution.”
Some parts of Canada continue to see high case counts of COVID-19, with Manitoba particularly affected. A CBC News report this week said as some provinces take steps toward reopening, Manitoba is dealing with a third wave of the pandemic and asking the federal government for help.