Back in July, unable to travel anywhere too far from Toronto, I went on holiday to Niagara Falls, one of Canada’s tourist hotspots, which is famous for the majestic waterfall it shares with the US as well as its gaudier tourist pleasures. The Canadian side of the Falls usually attracts some 12 million visitors a year and in 2020 the strangeness of being in a tourist town emptied of visitors was compounded by just how different life appeared to be on the other side of the Niagara River.
Over in Niagara Falls, USA, the storied Maid of the Mist tourist boats that depart for the belly of the Falls were stuffed to the gunnels with buoyant American holidaymakers. Canada’s counterpart tourist vessels were almost empty. It was a sight that represented just how differently life was unfolding south of the border during the pandemic. Our neighbour suddenly felt more distant – less familiar, perhaps, than they had before.
The border between Canada and the US is usually one of the world’s busiest land crossings: at its height some $2bn (€1.7bn) worth of trade passed through every day. Yet it has remained closed to all but essential traffic since March. It’s a restriction that, while supported by 90 per cent of Canadians, is no small feat of diplomacy too. “We were having to make really impactful decisions really quickly,” Kristen Hillman, Canada’s new ambassador to Washington, told me during an interview this summer. “I attribute that to the importance that both countries place on the relationship.”
The unprecedented part-closure of the border has in many ways been an appropriate symbol for the relationship at large over the past four years. It has compounded the differences between neighbours but, through unprecedented strife, has also highlighted what they share. A new year and a new administration in Washington might allow not only for the border to reopen but also for these most important of neighbours to be reconnected once again.