Jim Schott and Mary McManus hadn’t visited Canada in two years. On Monday, Aug. 9, they got their chance, and at the end of their journey in Calgary, Alberta, is McManus’ 8-month-old grandson, a boy she’s never met.

The Fargo couple stopped in Morris, a Manitoba community about 25 miles north of the Pembina port of entry, for lunch on Monday on their way to Winnipeg. Flying from that city to Calgary, they said, is much cheaper than flying from Fargo. The couple crossed the Canada border on Monday, the first day that fully-vaccinated Americans were allowed across in nearly 18 months.

“We’re excited. We booked our tickets when we heard the border was opening,” McManus said. “We booked our tickets, and two days later we said, ‘Here we go.’”

Crossing the border was fairly easy for some on Monday. Two Herald reporters crossed at Pembina and another took the port of entry north of Roseau, Minn. At 11:30 a.m. at Pembina, the wait was about five minutes per car, with nine cars in two lines, and a processing time of about five minutes per car. At Roseau, it took the reporter about 10 minutes. The wait times were much better than the reported seven hours for the International Falls, Minn., port of entry. The Canadian government website lists wait times at crossings.

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Kathy Corbel, owner of the Tim Hortons in Morris, said she was glad to have Americans back in her restaurant, and beamed with exuberance at the prospect of having more. There weren’t many at noon on Monday, though – just Schott, in an NDSU T-shirt, McManus, and a pair of Herald reporters. She gets a lot of truck drivers, she said, but it’s been a long time since she has seen recreational travelers.

The timing of the border opening, at least partially – Canadians can’t visit the U.S. until Aug. 21, and some aren’t convinced that will be a reality – works well for Corbel. Manitoba, she said, just relaxed some pandemic restrictions on Saturday, including rules on wearing masks.

Cars from the U.S. trickle across the border at Emerson, MB, Monday, the first day in nearly 18 months since the border closed due to COVID-19. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Cars from the U.S. trickle across the border at Emerson, MB, Monday, the first day in nearly 18 months since the border closed due to COVID-19. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Like restaurants in the U.S., Corbel went through the process of take-out only – her business usually runs half and half between drive-through and takeout. She was allowed to open at 10% seating capacity, then 25%. Now, she’s fully open and guests don’t have to wear masks, though the staff did.

“We need it,” Corbel said, of cross border travel. “The economy here needs it. We need to get back to some kind of normal.”

Both Corbel and Schott talked about what it was like to cross the border, the former wondering how easy it was and the latter expressing surprise at just that. Travelers need to provide a negative molecular coronavirus test, taken within 72 hours of the date of departure. They also need to provide proof of vaccination, and upload that information into the Canadian government’s ArriveCan smartphone application, or on the website.

And the ArriveCan app, though functional, is somewhat clunky. Photo options may or may not pop up to easily enter passport data, as well as photos of a vaccination card. Even then, it sometimes misspells names, and the data needs to be entered manually. The app also doesn’t really know what to do with people making a day trip. It requires travelers to enter quarantine plans in the event of exposure, or even a possible positive coronavirus test while within the country, plans people traveling for the day don’t have.

Herald reporters who crossed at Pembina entered the address of the Emerson Duty Free store, located on the Canadian side of the border, as the place they could quarantine. There wasn’t any other option in the ArriveCan app.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, only two cars were waiting in line at the border to enter Canada at Pembina. Herald reporters there pulled over to complete data entry on the app. Though both reporters took COVID-19 molecular tests on Friday, one had not received his results until just about time to cross.

Canada Border Service Agency employees asked all the usual questions – origin of the trip, whether any alcohol or tobacco was in the vehicle and the final destination, instance. They took passports and looked at proof, either digital or paper, of negative COVID-19 tests. The ArriveCan app was never discussed, despite the app informing travelers of a code they could tell border officials.

Travelers crossed in dribs and drabs, and license plates were seen from states as far away as California.

Emerson (MB) Duty Free store owner Simon Resch shows Moorhead, MN, residents Vivian Qian, left,  and Zhimin Guan photos of Banff, Alberta,  near the Emerson, MB, border crossing Monday morning where the couple was heading for a vacation as the Canadian border opened to double-vaccinated and COVID-tested (negative result within 72 hours) U.S. citizens. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Emerson (MB) Duty Free store owner Simon Resch shows Moorhead, MN, residents Vivian Qian, left, and Zhimin Guan photos of Banff, Alberta, near the Emerson, MB, border crossing Monday morning where the couple was heading for a vacation as the Canadian border opened to double-vaccinated and COVID-tested (negative result within 72 hours) U.S. citizens. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Zhimin Guan and his wife, Vivian Qian, stopped in the parking lot of the visitor’s center north of Emerson. The center has not yet re-opened. They are on their way from Fargo to Banff, Alberta, for a vacation. They said it was a long time coming, and had opted out of traveling earlier in the summer. Qian said she was looking forward to a break and to taking nature photos before returning to work as a high school teacher in Moorhead, Minn.

“I've been waiting for so long to travel, the whole summer,” Qian said. “I was waiting for this day.”

Walter and Nicole Kulbaba, from Minneapolis, said they were on their way to visit family in Winnipeg. It’s been two years since they made the trip with their four children – something Nicole Kulbaba said they did as often as six times a year before the pandemic. She’s glad to be on the road again, and Walter Kulbaba said they didn’t have any problems with the ArriveCan app.

Nicole and Walter Kulbaba with children (from left) Carter, Parker, Harper and Spencer, of Minneapolis make a stop in Pembina, ND, before crossing the border into Canada to visit family for the first time in nearly two years. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Nicole and Walter Kulbaba with children (from left) Carter, Parker, Harper and Spencer, of Minneapolis make a stop in Pembina, ND, before crossing the border into Canada to visit family for the first time in nearly two years. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

There were two pickups, both towing boats, waiting in line at the South Junction, Man., port of entry north of Roseau, Minn., when a Herald reporter pulled in shortly after the port's 8 a.m. opening. The reporter had filled out the necessary information on the ArriveCan app and presented documents to the border guard showing he was fully vaccinated and had results from a negative COVID-19 test taken within the 72-hour requirement for crossing.

Within about 10 minutes or so, he was across the border and on his way to Buffalo Point. Located on the Manitoba side of Lake of the Woods, Buffalo Point is a popular destination for Americans across the region, many of whom have campers or cabins there.

Only two boat-trailer rigs, both with Manitoba license plates, were in the parking lot at Buffalo Bay Marina at 9:30 a.m.

Keith Hanson and his daughter Annika, 13, of Hawley, Minn., pulled in shortly after 10 a.m. to spend a few days at their camper for the first time since November 2019. A math teacher in Hawley, Keith Hanson said he and his daughter left Hawley about 5:30 a.m. His brother, Roger, also a math teacher, was en route from East Grand Forks.

"Right now, the plan is to clean," Hanson said. "We are going to be up here for a week."

Crossing into Manitoba north of Warroad, Minn., Hanson said the process went smoothly, and they were on their way within minutes. Their time at the camper would be a reunion, of sorts, he said. Of the 10 campers in Row C of the campground, nine are owned by Americans, he said.

Simon Resch, owner of the duty-free shop in Emerson, was enthusiastic that American travelers could again come to the country. Still, he’s skeptical of efforts to get more people across. The Canadian government, he said, could offer incentives to get more people to come to Canada – free hotel rooms and the like. He’s even more skeptical about Aug. 21, the date the U.S. is set to allow Canadian visitors into the country. He thinks the Biden administration is too hesitant, and concerns about the Delta variant of the coronavirus are increasing. He thinks the opening date for Canadians could be pushed back.

“Just gut feeling,” Resch said. “If it (opens,) great. (But) really, I think we're looking at September.”