Summer road trip stories: Crossing the U.S./Canadian border

January 17, 2011, 11:25 AM · (We're keeping warm this winter by remembering scenes our most recent family summer road trip.)

Like many Americans, I was born with a big ego and a lot of pride in my country. Which is why I felt so depressed at the Peace Arch border crossing last summer, going into and coming out of Canada.

Leaving the United States and entering Canada was like driving into a Disney theme park - a beautifully landscaped building that looked like a ski lodge flanked a long row of booths, staffed with customs agents who moved the queue of waiting cars swiftly.

Peace Arch border crossing into Canada

And few days later, returning to America, the road narrowed to a couple of lanes that crept through a construction zone, guarded by a hand-written sign that read "No Public Access."

Peace Arch border crossing into the United States

The world's most popular theme parks spend so much on creating impressive entrances for a reason - they make visitors feel welcomed and comfortable. (Which, in turn, encourages them to spend money.) Canada's entrance did that. America's did not. And, as an America, that frustrated me. My country ought to be better than that.

Yes, I know that we're in the process of building a new Port of Entry at Peace Arch. But why did we let ours get in such bad shape in the first place? Canada got its new facility built in plenty of time for the Olympics last year. We should have, too.

Too often in America, we think in terms of what kind of country we can afford instead of what kind of country we want to be. Trust me, Walt Disney didn't create Disneyland thinking first about only what he could afford. He thought of what he wanted his theme park to be, then found a way to pay for it.

In that respect, I wish that we Americans thought more often about our country the way Walt thought about his theme park. Why shouldn't we always strive for the best, and instead of settling for the cheap?

Replies (8)

January 17, 2011 at 11:39 AM · It looks better now than it did last summer, Robert. My wife and I came back to the states from Canada, at the Peace Arch, last Thanksgiving. If things keep going at this rate, it's going to be a first-class crossing once all the construction gets done. Right now, the truck crossing at Pacific Highway actually looks better.

Are you a NEXUS card holder? Despite the somewhat exhaustive process to get the thing, it certainly makes crossings much easier in both directions.

Happy travels.

January 17, 2011 at 1:28 PM · Good insight Robert. We can't pretend to stop spending in our country and everything will be fine.
January 17, 2011 at 4:07 PM · I've never thought too much about the border appearance. The border could be covered in rainbows and lollipops; it's still not going to improve my mood after dealing with the jerk border guards.
January 17, 2011 at 7:05 PM · Ontario as a whole however is getting pretty dumpy. I crossed from NY into Ontario a couple of years ago and was shocked, after being away for only a week or so, at how badly maintained and primitive the Ontario highway system is. The 401, probably Canada's most important highway (sort of a Canuckian I-95) is really poorly designed, narrow, has bad grades and curves and (!) gravel shoulders. And it is full of cracks and potholes and has poor signage to boot. Ontario is in really bad fiscal condition just like a lot of US states. Taxes keep going up, the debt keeps going up, the government payroll gets bigger and bigger, and services keep going down.
January 18, 2011 at 5:47 AM · I agree with you here Robert. Like Theme Parks the 'entrance' (whether it be Borders, Stations or Airports) to a country should be impressive - first impressions are massively important.

I'm from Scotland where our southern border joins with England. Although we are, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, part of the UK we each are immensly proud of where we come from. I was very happy to see on my last visit to England that the 'way in' to my country was adorned with a large clean sign welcoming visitors, alongside numerous Saltires (Scottish flag) flowing freely in the wind. Beautiful.

Unfortunately the same care and attention had not been put into Englands welcome - a small brown sign with 'You are now entering England'. Although even that was barely readable with all the grafitti on it. Was not impressed.

So yeah - I think it pays to put a bit of money towards the entrances!

January 18, 2011 at 12:06 PM · "Too often in America, we think in terms of what kind of country we can afford instead of what kind of country we want to be."

I apreciate Dubai turning their country in one big theme park from a theme park lovers perspective. Still strikes me as particular bad policy that would result from such a mindset.
Fortunatly for Americans, America is rich. Thus talk about inability to afford certain public spending are just another way to say "i dont like that kind of spending".

January 18, 2011 at 9:19 PM · Robert hits the nail on its head; the US has lost its nerve and ability to dream (compare the US to what's happening in China, the Arab Gulf, Singapore, etc.). Just look at flying into JFK Aiport in NYC compared to other world airports such as Singapore's. JFK in general has become a pit... the one great recent thing is the rail system built for JFK, which shows the US can still do it when it puts its mind to it, but it needs leaders who dare to dream big, and don't talk the entire country down to the status of an old, moth-eaten cashmere sweater.
January 21, 2011 at 6:40 PM · You're lucky. My daughter was taking pictures of the entry point, and the Canadian border security took the camera and erased 2 weeks of vacation pictures.

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