U.S. residents eager to head north into Canada wasted little time Monday with the border open for the first time in 17 months, causing a massive lineup miles long in International Falls, but that line had dissipated by the end of the day and there was no major delay reported Tuesday morning.
The line to get from International Falls into Fort Frances, Ontario, was several miles long early Monday morning on the first day COVID-19-vaccinated U.S. residents could enter the country for nonessential travel since March 2020.
Hundreds of cars and trucks, many pulling boats on trailers, waited for more than eight hours to get into Canada.
The Canada Border Services Agency estimated that it could take 10-40 minutes to clear each vehicle through customs with border officers strictly enforcing vaccination documentation and requirements to have appropriate paperwork and the new ArriveCan app border entry documentation.
On Monday morning, Tricia Heibel, president of the International Falls Chamber of Commerce, who has an office on the road that leads across the Rainy River and into Fort Frances, said she’d never seen anything like it before.
“I talked with a couple outside my office who had been in line since 3:15 a.m.,” Heibel said Monday morning. That was at midmorning and the couple still had another two-hour wait in front of them.
But by Monday evening, Heibel reported the lineup was back to a more normal, pre-pandemic level. And the Canada Border Services Agency website officially reported no significant delays at Fort Frances after reporting a seven-hour wait Monday.
Some Canadian resorts reported on Facebook on Monday that their first U.S. guests began arriving in the middle of the night after the border opened at 11 p.m. Sunday in the Central Time Zone. For many of the resorts not open in winter months it was their first paying customers since October 2019.
Meanwhile, the portion of U.S. Highway 53 that runs through and ends in International Falls is under construction this summer, leading to some traffic snarls in the border town.
Heibel said International Falls and neighboring lakes, including Voyageurs National Park, have been extremely busy the past two summers with vacationers filling campsites and lodges, many of whom couldn’t make their usual trips to Canada.
Now, Heibel expects an even busier few months with pent-up demand from cabin owners and vacationers heading across the border.
“It’s probably going to be peak summer traffic now right into fall,” she said.