For as close as I’ve lived to Canada for most of my life, it seems kind of funny how rarely I’ve been there. I’ve only visited once, in fact, for a high school band trip some fifteen years ago, and I remember things seemed mostly the same as Montana, but different in subtle ways. I’m remembering Calgary as a kind of parallel-universe Denver where they used the metric system, still had free-standing A&W’s, and inexplicably had never heard of the notion of eating Corned Beef & Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
So, a couple weeks ago, while we were visiting Shelby, we made the trip to the northern border to have a look at the great white north, which looked pretty much the same as Montana in August from where we were standing. Just in case you were wondering, there’s not much of a fence there; just your standard agricultural model. I’m sure large swaths of the border don’t even have that. Usually when people on TV are yelling about “securing America’s borders”, they’re often talking about the southern border of the United States. It’s northern counterpart (and indeed much of our coastline) seems to be more of an after-thought, although frankly I’d guess that the northern border has been traditionally more “problematic” over the last 200 years.
Not only were armed conflicts with Canada/U.K. an anxiety for many decades, but smuggling was also a constant problem. A lot of this seemed like benign stuff that simply bypassed tariffs, like sheep or paper, but a lot of it was contraband, for better or worse. We tend to think of things like the whiskey-smuggling of the Prohibition Era as folksy and maybe even quasi-heroic these days, but there was a darker side to that sort of business too, built on murder and exploitation. It all still goes on today, too. And, I should mention, I’m sure that issue goes both ways– there’s probably plenty of U.S. funny business trickling north that the Canadians would likely rather not have to deal with too.
So, were we being watched during our little visit to the border, either by an observant agent noting our car traveling down the road, a high altitude drone camera, or a satellite? Maybe… but I kind of doubt it. I think vast stretches of the US-Canada border simply operate on the honor system, although the possibilities of technology have certainly created a sort of vast Panopticon in the sky. I suppose sooner or later they’ll decide they need to put up some sort of giant concrete wall to keep everyone where they can scan their barcodes, but it’s nice to still go somewhere to have an unimpeded view of an adjacent country, and nice to live in somewhere where I have the freedom to linger at a border without someone coming up to ask for my identification… even if I was worried they were going to do so any minute.