Meet two N.W.T. border officers working through the holidays to keep COVID-19 away

·4 min read

At the N.W.T. - Alberta border, a series of flashing signs, cones and lights create a detour for drivers to pull over.

Border officers Lorne Currie and Trey Beck approach the driver's side of the car, armed with a pen and paper. They're ready to ask the driver a short list of questions.

"N.W.T. resident?" Currie asks.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Currie takes down basic information, like the driver's license plate number, driver's license, N.W.T. destination and isolation plan number.

The checkstop interview takes three minutes for the driver. Then, Currie clears them to enter the territory.

"Merry Christmas!," Currie waves.

Officers live on-site during shifts

Currie and Beck are two of the territory's newest essential workers stationed at the N.W.T. - Alberta border over the holidays, keeping COVID-19 at bay.

The border checkpoint has been here since the end of March, as a way to enforce the territory's mandatory 14-day self-isolation period upon arrival.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Border officers work 12-hour shifts for four days on-site, staring at a computer screen until cars come through the checkpoint. They sleep between shifts in their own camp of pop-up huts.

They have to bring everything with them - except for a mattress, and the cable TV plugged into every room.

On off days, they head back to their homes in Hay River, to stock up on enough food and clean clothes to get them through their next on-time.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Both men, in very different walks of life, are attracted to the work for the same reason — to keep northerners safe.

'It's a personal duty'

Before the pandemic, Currie operated a lawn mowing business in Hay River.

He decided to take a year off his business to work at the border.

Currie was one of the first officers who signed up for the job in March, starting at the old checkpoint in Enterprise, N.W.T.

"You feel like you're doing the right thing, keeping the border safe," he said. "It's a personal duty."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

The most rewarding part of the job for Currie is the thank you's from drivers as they pass through the checkpoint.

"Man, you'd be amazed at how many people are actually happy that we're here, and knowing that we're trying to help them," he said.

"They notice there are fewer cases here, and that's where the difference is."

The job also pushes him to interact with people day-in and day-out, something he says is far "outside his comfort zone."

"My business is going to rock when I go back," Currie said. "I'm better at talking to people, sympathizing with people."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

So when it came to working during the holidays, Currie stepped up to take more shifts so his coworkers with children could have the time off. His spouse was immediately supportive.

"[She said] 'When do you want to do Christmas,'" Currie laughed.

Currie will be celebrating Christmas and New Years Eve on the same day.

'I'll be out here as long as [COVID-19] is'

In March, Beck was playing at a junior hockey tournament in Alberta when the coronavirus started moving through the country.

After the tournament, he came back to finish his last few months of senior year at Hay River's Diamond Jenness High School, graduating with the class of 2020.

Beck said it was a weird time to be moving into this new stage of his life.

"[Graduation] was six feet apart, no chairs," Beck said. "It was definitely different from other grads I've gotten to watch."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Beck's last contract position ended after graduation, so he started looking for something new.

Working at the border intrigued Beck. He knows the land very well, because his family came here often growing up, so he thought he'd give it a shot.

"I like being outdoors, I like talking to people so it made sense," he said.

Beck opened Christmas presents with family a few days before his shifts started.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

He's been away from home for the holidays in the past, but says this year it's "not a good time" to be without family at the holidays.

"I think it's good for them to know ... I'm out here, trying to keep everyone safe in the Northwest Territories," Currie said. "They'll enjoy me when I'm back."

Overall, Beck says he enjoys the work, and he's in it for the long haul.

"I'll be out here as long as [COVID-19] is out here."