The owner of a last-stop convenience store just south of the N.W.T. says the only thing keeping his business open is his love for the place.
Indian Cabins Trading Post, just 18 kilometres south of the N.W.T.-Alberta border, used to welcome busloads of summer tourists from the United States, Alberta and elsewhere for stopovers on their way to the north.
That's all but evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My heart is in it more than just rings through the till. If it was strictly about money, we would be closed already. - Todd Engblom, owner of Indian Cabins Trading Post
Owner Todd Engblom said traffic to his store has been cut in half over the last six months, because the Canada-U.S. border closure and the N.W.T travel restrictions are tightening traffic flow into northern Alberta.
"My heart is in it more than just rings through the till," Engblom said. "If it was strictly about money, we would be closed already."
Travellers say N.W.T. restrictions are 'heavy-handed'
Regulars who pass through are able to stock up on mechanic gear, warm food and an extra sweater at the store. For many it's the last stop before entering the Northwest Territories.
Day after day, Engblom watches as people get turned away from the N.W.T. and sent back to Alberta.
This frustrates some travellers, who tell Engblom they didn't realize movement into the territory is restricted during the pandemic.
"Some of them feel it's a little heavy-handed, given that other provinces don't have border restrictions," Engblom said.
Man looks for work near border crossing
David Hovey, a long time Yellowknifer, traveled to the border from New Brunswick. He wants to move back to N.W.T. and find work in the city's transportation sector.
"I decided it was time to go back north," Hovey told CBC.
Hovey tried to cross into the N.W.T. three weeks ago, but was denied entry because he did not have a job or a residence lined up.
Going across Canada was no problem. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get into the territory. - David Hovey, long-time Yellowknifer
Unable to enter the N.W.T., Hovey is mowing grass and working on renovations for store in exchange for a place to set up his trailer.
"Going across Canada was no problem. I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get into the territory," he said.
Hovey said he will be staying on the site until he gets a job offer.
Other travellers have taken a few hours or days on the convenience store's land to figure out what to do next.
Most turn back toward High Level, Alta., roughly 190 kilometres away.
'We're not going anywhere'
Engblom said he wants the N.W.T. to give business owners like him a roadmap for the easing of border restrictions, so that he can plan accordingly.
"What's the endgame … do we have to go to zero before we open back up?" Engblom said.
Still, Engblom sees the pandemic as an opportunity to change and expand his business to fit the new normal. The store will introduce a fuel system later this year.
They are also hoping to supply travellers with hot soups and chilies in a new restricted seating area during the winter.
For now, Engblom says he's going to continue to make the best of what he has.
"Instead of looking at it as a panic situation, we've been looking at it as a time to roll up our sleeves and do other things.
"We've been here for 10 years. We're not going anywhere."