With the shutdown of Peace Arch Park, the Lower Mainland road that runs along the Canada-US border has once again become a meeting place for families separated by the COVID-19 closure of the border to all but essential travel.
They gather where 0 Avenue runs alongside East Boundary Road on the U.S side, with only a narrow trench separating the two routes.
Those who go there call it “the ditch,” the only place where they can see the people they care about in the flesh.
For Aldergrove resident Georgene VanDelft, it’s a poor substitute for the regular visits she used to make to her parents and siblings in Lynden and Sumas, just across the border — trips that would normally take around 20 minutes when the border crossing was open to casual trips.
“We haven’t been able to hang out,” she told a Langley Advance Times reporter on Tuesday, June 23, as the Canadian and U.S. branches of her family chatted across the ditch.
Early in the evening, Van Delft, her husband Jason and their children lined up their camping chairs on the 0 avenue side of the ditch, while her parents, Otto and Jeanette Bouwman sat on the U.S. side, along with sister Clarissa Chase and her kids, and brother Derrick Bouwman.
With the Van Delfts, on the Canadian side, was Derrick’s girlfriend, Mekayla Knol, who explained the couple has been kept apart since border crossings were restricted in March.
“We’ve been meeting each other in the ditch, pretty regularly,” Mekalya said.
They had been meeting “three times a week” at the Peace Arch park, Derrick said, but that option disappeared on June 18, when the park was ordered closed by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
According to a ministry statement, too many people were turning up at the park to meet family from the other side of the border, creating massive congestion and overwhelming available parking.
“They (the ministry) aren’t seeing that this is affecting regular people,” Derrick said.
Otto said the border shutdown has “profoundly impacted” his family, causing “substantial stresses and strains.”
Georgene would like to see rules adjusted to allow for close families like hers, so that her mother could come across the line.
“Right now, if my mom came up to visit me, she’s supposed to stay for 14 days before she goes back. You should be able to visit each other in your home.”
She said her family is “eagerly” looking forward to the day when her family can once again visit each other freely.
“Nobody likes to sit in a ditch,” Jason observed.
On the day Georgene’s family met at the ditch, about a dozen other people could be seen nearby, in small groups, having similar cross-border get-togethers.
“If you come down on a Saturday, it’s [packed. You may not be able to find a parking spot,” Derrick observed.
Many, Jeanette observed, were young couples like Derrick and Mekayla, separated by the shutdown.
“It’s like lover’s lane,” she said.
On the day of their visit, Langley RCMP could be seen on the Canadian side, apparently patrolling for speeders down the congested road, while a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle could be seen monitoring the American side.