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.
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 non-essential 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 anywhere from 10 to 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.
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’s 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.
That was at midmorning and the couple still had another two-hour wait in front of them.
“Everyone in line is turning off their vehicles because they are moving only every 30-40 minutes, that's how long it’s taking to process each vehicle,” Heibel said. “It’s a warm and muggy day and these people are waiting a long time to get into Canada.”
According to the Canada Border Services Agency website, there was a 7-hour wait to enter at Fort Frances at 1 p.m. Monday, by far the longest of any entry point that is monitored coast-to-coast. Other long waits were crossings from Maine and from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at about two hours each.
Other Minnesota/Ontario border crossings at Pigeon River and Baudette are not officially monitored. The website said there was only a 15-minute wait to cross from Pembina, North Dakota north of Grand Forks into Emmerson, Manitoba.
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 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.