Border town mayors: keep the U.S. border closed

Many towns with land crossings into the U.S. rely on the tourism that comes with them. As borders remain closed, local shops have felt the pinch.

Even so, a group of mayors is calling on the government to keep the border shut.

In the town of Prescott, on the other side of the St. Lawrence River is Ogdensburg, N.Y. The bridge that joins the two countries and towns is closed to non-essential travel. 

On King Street West, a stone's throw from the historic seaway waterfront, Kevin Bunce's antique and collectibles shop, Furniture Past, would normally have more foot traffic coming through the store. Business isn't bad, but he's felt the hit.

"A fair amount of Americans normally travel through here," says Bunce. "Unfortunately I do have American customers that can't make it here but we are definitely noticing the tourism is a little slower."

Shops like Bunce’s rely on their U.S. neighbours to put cash in their economies, but a group of border town mayors have united and in a video conference with Canada public safety minister Bill Blair called on the government to keep the crossings closed until at least the end of the year.

The emergency border closure is set to expire Sept. 21. With provincial cases of COVID-19 on the rise and in the U.S. surging, the mayors agree that opening the crossings too soon could have consequences.

Sarnia, Ont. mayor Mike Bradley, who took part in the conference, says with the exception of essential travel between the two countries, we need to pay attention to what's happening in the U.S. and not take any chances.

"We need to see what's happening with COVID in this province with the schools opening and people being in closer quarters,” he added.

But closed borders does not mean closed doors. Next to Bunce's shop, is Ben Quenneville's real estate storefront and above that, he operates an Airbnb.

Quenneville supports the continued closure and says this year has been one of his best he's seen. There has been an increase in local tourism, with visitors travelling an hour or less to spend a few hours or days discovering the area.

"They are definitely nearby and they are eating here and they're doing takeout and they're doing groceries here, so it's definitely a positive thing."