Crossing into Canada

by undoingborders

On our way to Montreal, we stopped in at Molly’s family’s home in Marshfield, Vermont.  Thanks for hosting us and the home-cooked meal.

Over dinner, Li and Essex learned about the library in Derby Line where the border runs right through the building!

One could enter the library from either side, we were told, and we wondered what that could look like.  Would there be fences or guards posted inside?  Would library users have to carry a passport with them?  Li had only known the southern border and its ever-increasing presence of more and more border patrol officers, fences, lights and cameras.  How could a library ever be shared across a line like that?

We drove into what looked like a quiet neighborhood street, the ground still wet from last night’s rain.  There were no fences, no agents, no booths.  Only some signs, one facing the USA side from the Canadian government,

and one facing the Canadian side from the government of the USA,

– and a line, of course:

Inside the library there were a couple of state agents – 2 plain-clothed librarians, in their older years, who greeted us warmly in French.  There were French books, there were English books, there were computers, tables and a single black line about an inch-wide, straight-edged and taped on the floor of the library in the reading room.  Here we are balancing on, across it and traversing it:

Molly says the border used to be even less policed.  That everyone crossed back and forth easily.  She was born in a small town near a place called Smuggler’s Notch, named for a time, during Prohibition, when alcohol was carried through the mountains from Canada.  But as a child, school field trips were often to Canada, where the closest zoo, amusement park, and city all live.  She would cross with as little as a signed note from her mom.  Before 9-11, a passport was unnecessary.  People could cross into either the US or Canada with much more ease once upon a time not long ago.  Perhaps Haskell Free Library and Opera House signals that?

Or maybe not.  Li has heard it used to be easier to cross at the Mexic0-USA border too, but wasn’t alive for it.  In this lifetime, it has always been a place of fences and lights and government agents with guns, with more and more of each every year.  Whether due to economic reasons or racial prejudices, the southern border has long been surveiled with a more intense scrutiny.

In either case, the border props up the illusion of legitimacy for governments that appoint themselves keepers of the gates.  We left the library and drove to the official port of entry down the street, where we showed our passports, handed over our non-Canadian produce, and answered questions about our bank accounts and sources of income.  We left the library to cross where we were told, and handed over our documents to a state that demands participation in a system of governance dependent upon the ongoing occupation of territories ill-gained.