Maine border town closes access to Canada for 12 hours a day

The Vanceboro port of entry cut its hours of operation in half in September. The round-the-clock operation is not open for 12 hours a day, starting at 8 a.m. ET.  (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
The Vanceboro port of entry cut its hours of operation in half in September. The round-the-clock operation is not open for 12 hours a day, starting at 8 a.m. ET. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Residents of a Maine border town are not happy that the crossing into Canada has cut operating hours in half, reducing their access to health care, community events, family and friends to 12 hours a day.

The neighbouring communities of Vanceboro, Maine, and McAdam, N.B. learned this summer of plans by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to cut operations at the Vanceboro port of entry, which has been open around the clock.

After months of protesting the changes, community rallies and letters of opposition from state senators and congress representatives, the Vanceboro port of entry reduced its hours on Sept.11.

Travellers can now only cross between the U.S. and Canada between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET.

"The town has done an awful lot of work trying to get some changes, even if they just changed the hours, anything to help us out a little bit," said Daniel Beers, the owner and operator of Holly's, a convenience store in Vanceboro.

"We're not even getting any replies from anybody."

'No interest at all'

Beers said no one in the U.S. government has answered questions.

"Letters have been sent to Washington signed by senators and even the governor of the state, and we've still got no reply from anybody," said Beers.

"There's just no interest at all in trying to help us out or accommodate us a little bit.

During a public meeting in Vanceboro in July, U.S. officials cited a decline of traffic in recent years as the reason for the reduction, even before COVID-19 restrictions led to the border between the two countries being closed save for essential workers.

The town of around 100 Americans has deep connections with the Canadian village of McAdam, which has a population of around 1,200.

WATCH | Discover how Vanceboro residents are dealing with a steep cut in access time to Canada: 

Families often have members on either side of the border, and the two communities have a history of sharing emergency services.

"I used to go to a lot of sporting events — you had some big curling over there not too long ago," said Beers, referring to the PointsBet Invitational curling tournament that took place in Fredericton last month.

"I couldn't go to that because I couldn't get back in time to get through the border at 8 o'clock."

No change on the Canadian side — so far

For now, it's status quo on the Canadian side. The St. Croix port of entry has not reduced its hours.

"Currently, the hours of service for travellers at the St. Croix POE have not been modified and are operating on a 24/7 basis," Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said in an email to CBC News.

"The Canada Border Services Agency is aware of the recent reduction of hours at the Vanceboro, Maine border crossing by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. We continue to monitor this closely for any impacts to our operations."

The U.S. border crossing now has an automatic one-way gate that allows travellers coming from the U.S. to get into Canada.

"CBP has installed an automatic gate to accommodate outbound traffic during the hourly reduction period and monitors the gate for security and effectiveness" wrote Ryan Brissette, a spokesperson with the Department of Homeland Security.

But travellers trying to get back into the U.S. must do so during the reduced hours.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Beers says that system has had some hiccups. He said an American attempted to travel to Canada but was refused entry after 8 p.m. one night. But due to the U.S. closure they couldn't get back into Vanceboro and sat in limbo on the border between the two countries until a U.S. border agent travelled from the Calais, Maine border crossing, an hour away.

Inquiries from CBC News about the incident have received no reply from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

'I felt kind of let down'

Ken Stannex, the mayor of McAdam, says there are no signs on either side of the border to warn about the changes.

He described the change as rushed and secretive.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

"I felt kind of let down that there was so little thought for the residents that were coming back and forth," said Stannex.

"It was as if that community in Vanceboro just didn't matter."

Stannex believes it's only a matter of time before Canada cuts the St. Croix port's hours to match the American reduction.

"I was talking to one of the border agents on the Canadian side. They were saying they were already going through a shift schedules to align themselves with that 12-hour reduction," said Stannex.