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Canadians flock to GF for Victoria Day

Traffic was noticeably busier throughout Grand Forks this afternoon, and some of that was because of UND's spring graduation ceremony at the Alerus Center.

Traffic was noticeably busier throughout Grand Forks this afternoon, and some of that was because of UND's spring graduation ceremony at the Alerus Center.

But the large number of Manitoba license plates in parking lots across the city made it clear that the city was also being filled by another kind of visitor -- Canadian travelers in town on a long weekend during their Victoria Day break.

The holiday is celebrated on the Monday before May 25 in honor of Queen Victoria's birthday, and like Memorial Day in the U.S., is somewhat of an informal kickoff to the beginning of summer.

Three visitors from Winnipeg said they had different reasons for spending Victoria Day weekend in Grand Forks, but the biggest factor was a chance to go somewhere different and enjoy what this destination city has to offer.

Economic factors


Jennifer O'Leary said she gets to Grand Forks once or twice a year. The exchange rate on the Canadian dollar has been a big influence on how often she comes south of the border and how much she spends, she said.

Last year, the exchange rate was nearly even between an American and Canadian dollar. Add to that the fact that taxes tend to be much less here than in Winnipeg, and it made for an obviously cheaper shopping experience for travelers.

O'Leary said now that the rate has changed, and her dollar is worth about 80 cents in America, she tends to buy different things when she visits. For some items, the difference in price between Grand Forks and Winnipeg has basically vanished.

"It sort of works out to the same with the exchange rate," she said.

Clothing and groceries are still a better deal here, O'Leary said, and stores often have a bigger selection of items.

Gas also tends to be cheaper in the U.S., she said, but if prices were as high as they were last summer, she would be much less likely to visit. "It would have kept Canadians from traveling," she said.

But her biggest reason for visiting is enjoying "just something different." O'Leary said the family-friendly activities possible in Grand Forks, along with the many hotels and other options, make it a compelling place to visit for Winnipeg natives.

"It's a good destination because it's close," she said.


Destination city

Eddy Watt said Grand Forks is an attractive vacation spot because it's cheap, close and great for last-minute holiday planning.

"I think it's a matter of you can stick your kid in a car for 2½ hours and go somewhere different," he said. "There's nothing in particular that stands out."

He said he doesn't compare prices between Winnipeg and Grand Forks, and coming here is mostly just a matter of taking a small vacation with his family. But his wife pointed out that baby stuff was much cheaper at Target than it is back home.

Watt comes to town once every couple of years and, like O'Leary, said high gas prices would prevent him from traveling as often. But the price of a hotel room and the current exchange rate are also factors that he said help determine how soon he returns after a holiday in the U.S.

Betty Neufeld makes the trip to Grand Forks "quite frequently," and said she loves to spend money and enjoy some drinks while she's here. Her biggest reasons for visiting are the many shopping opportunities and a chance to get away for a few days.

She said some motorists at the border crossing in Pembina, N.D., had to wait for more than two hours to get into North Dakota because there were so many travelers. She didn't have to wait as long as that, but didn't take long to decide if visiting Grand Forks is worth waiting in the slow-moving lines at the border.

"Yes, it is."


Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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