Heading south on the horizon

The Grand Portage Lodge & Casino in Grand Portage, Minn., is less

than an hour away from Thunder Bay.

Though Kjersti Vick works a short drive from the Canadian border, the

sight of friendly Canucks coming through for a bit of skiing or a

lake-view lunch is no longer as familiar as it was 18 months ago

before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which is why Vick, who is based in Grand Marais, Minn., says she can

hardly wait for the U.S. border to reopen to ground traffic sometime

early next month — even though there isn’t an exact date yet.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of Canadians,” Vick, a tourism

marketing director for Minnesota’s Cook County, predicted Thursday.

Vick didn’t have exact numbers,. but said that pre-COVID, Canadians

have normally accounted for a “signficant” portion of Cook County’s

tourism industry.

It’s a similar story at the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, which is

less than hour’s drive from Thunder Bay.

Grand Portage marketing director Todd Ford said business suffered

without the usual Canadian gamblers, although some of the edge was

taken off by Americans driving up from southern Minnestoa.

The casino, which includes a 95-room renovated lodge, was closed for

three months starting in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Asked about possible bargains, Ford wouldn’t go into details, but

said the business is planning a “warm welcome” when Canadian

customers are able to return next month.

Unlike Ontario casinos, Grand Portage customers aren’t required to

wear masks, but doing so “is highly recommended,” said Ford.

Canadians travelling to the U.S. by vehilce will have to provide

documents proving they’ve been double-vaccianted against COVID-19.

They won’t be asked for that proof upon entering through Grand

Portage casino.

Vick said the uptake for vaccinations in her area has been pretty

decent — about 3,400 people are fully-vaxxed out of 5,000, she said.

Canadians should bring masks when they travel, Vick said, since some

Cook County businesses require them as part of their individual

company policies.

Meanwhile, Canadian-bound parcels and packages have been piling up a

stone’s throw from the border at Minnesota’s familiar Ryden’s Border

Store.

Store manager Jamie Spry said “we do have more than usual, but we’re

well-equipped to hold a lot of packages.”

For “a small fee,” the store holds packages for Canadian customers

who order products from companies that don’t ship to Canada.

In Fort Frances, a border town, chamber of commerce executive-

director Heather Johnson said ground travel to the U.S. once the

border reopens may not be expotential because of the requirement for

Canadians to get tested before returning to Canada to prove their

Covid-free.

“I can’t see a lot of people wanting to do that just to buy a tank of

gas,” said Johnson.

She said Canadians making extended visits to see relatives in the

U.S. may be willing to suffer through the test.

“I don’t see a lot of movement through the border this winter,”

Johnson said. “I think there is still a level of caution out there,

but we’ll see.”