Community of St. Stephen, N.B. reacts to closure of Canada-U.S. border

Click to play video: 'Residents of St. Stephen, N.B., prepare for Canadian-US border to close'
Residents of St. Stephen, N.B., prepare for Canadian-US border to close
The closing of the border between the United States and Canada to non-essential crossing is a big step in the fight against the coronavirus. In the border community of St. Stephen, N.B., it’s a step that will impact the daily routine of residents. Travis Fortnum reports – Mar 18, 2020

Situated right on the Canada-U.S. border, residents of St. Stephen, N.B. need to only cross the St. Croix River to be in Calais, Maine.

The close proximity means many residents cross the border daily.

“When you live in a border town, you just do it,” one resident tells Global News. “I mean they’ve got a Walmart, we don’t.”

READ MORE: New Brunswick continues attempt to ‘slow down’ spread of coronavirus

Some head to Calais to take advantage of lower prices on gas and milk, some for the different foods available.

Another resident said, “I cross every morning – almost every morning. I kinda like their McDonald’s over there.”

It’s just routine for both communities, says New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson.

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“The communities operate, in many ways, as one community,” said Williamson. “They share fire services, for example.”

The two communities do, in fact, share equipment and personnel in relation to firefighting.

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Though, that’s set to continue as usual.

Residents of St. Stephen often cross the border without much fuss. That’s set to change with the temporary closure. Travis Fortnum / Global News

The mutual agreement between Canada and the United States will see essential services continue to cross, as well as those who need to cross for work – but not those looking to save a couple bucks or get some American fast food.

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“It’s a dramatic move,” said Williamson, “but across the country, we’re seeing province’s declaring states of emergency so this is the new normal we’re living in – which is to prepare for the unexpected.”

Some families are split by the border, too.

According to St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern, this is still one of the details that will need to be worked out.

The residents of St. Stephen, New Brunwick are left with many questions pertaining to the new, temporary arrangement. Travis Fortnum / Global News

“Say I lived here in St. Stephen and my elderly parents were on the other side,” he said. “I’d want to be able to get to see them, so we’ll have to find out what essential services are.”

More unusual than the circumstances of the cross-border sharing, may be the sudden loss of that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

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READ MORE: New Brunswick identifies 3 new presumptive coronavirus cases, bringing total to 11

“I’ve obviously never witnessed this in the eight years I’ve been around,” MacEachern said.

“I can’t say that I’m not nervous.”

That uncertainty is felt throughout St. Stephen, though most residents seem to agree the closing of the border is the right move.

“It’s going to be hard for us because we are limited for groceries,” another resident said, “but we gotta do what we got to do in order to keep this at bay.”

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And through the uncertainty, MP Williamson is encouraging calm.

“Life will return to normal.”

The temporary restrictions likely mean residents won’t be able to cross for a trip to Walmart or an American burger. Travis Fortnum / Global News

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