Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about life near the international border. If you have a story to tell contact Elodie Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALBURGH — When your house sits 10 feet from Canada, it doesn’t seem too extraordinary at first. The sky is the same, the trees are the same, the grass is the same. Even the farm across the street looks the same.
Your best clue to knowing another country lies in front of you is a small sign, and of course the numerous security measures taken by border patrol.
Roger Rainville, 59, has lived at Borderview Farm on Line Road in Alburgh – the road that sits between the United States and Canada – for 31 years. Rainville and his wife, Claire, both have families originally from Quebec who moved to Vermont mid-twentieth century. Both speak French fluently, and both regularly (legally) cross the border for groceries, during a trip to Montreal, or on a walk.
When asked what it’s like to be living next to another country, Rainville didn’t have much to say at first.
“We don’t do anything different,” he said.
But as Rainville continued thinking about where his home is situated, he talked about the various things that make a fence-less, line-less, wall-less border become apparent.
The Small Things
Rainville and his wife live about half-mile from a border checkpoint. They know that if they leave their farm on a summer Sunday and come back close to 5 p.m., they’ll be waiting in a 2-mile-long line to get back home. Many Canadians cross the border to visit the Lake Champlain Islands in warmer weather, Rainville said.
About one million gallons of milk, and also a fair share of gasoline, cross the line most days, too. “[Milk] is a big commodity over here,” Rainville said. He added that there are most likely more Canadian customers than U.S. customers served by local gas stations, and that in the summer, a line usually snakes out the door at the nearby liquor store.
“They buy it here because it’s cheaper,” Rainville said.
The commodity exchange goes both ways. Rainville said his wife and daughter shop in Canada, where they say the meat is higher quality, the clothing is not made in China, and the bed sheets are flannel, not cotton. “We like flannel sheets, and it’s almost impossible to buy them here,” Rainville said. “You just travel back and forth.”
In addition to some higher quality products, Rainville said that there is a distinct cultural difference that can be felt in the country next door, something larger than the change from English to French.
“You have that kind of border thing,” Rainville said.
Another “border thing” Rainville and his wife experience is the occasional smuggled person. Rainville said that when they first moved to Borderview Farm, a dead body was found in their field after several people from China were smuggled across the line and left to freeze in Vermont.
“We’ve had people from Spain bang on our door early in the morning looking for coffee because they were frozen,” Rainville said. After giving them some coffee in the barn and turning them over to border patrol, Rainville learned those people had been left off by smugglers at the wrong border crossing.
“We’re always looking,” Rainville said. He added that they often look at their own or others’ activity and ask, does this look unusual?
Rainville and his wife look for suspicious activity because they know border patrol and homeland security are also doing the same thing. Rainville estimated that both drive past Borderview Farm between 20 and 30 times a day, and he said that a helicopter regularly flies overhead as well. “You get used to it,” he said.
In addition to the vehicles, ground-bound and airborne, security cameras run out of Swanton’s border patrol station are everywhere in the area. “They zoom around and aim down and point at you,” Rainville said. “They don’t infringe on your privacy at all,” he added. “We feel very safe. We have 24-hour security.”
Though everyday operations aren’t too problematic, Rainville said that in the aftermath of 9/11, heightened security made his and his wife’s unique living situation more obvious than usual. “It was kind of eerie then,” Rainville said. “You knew you were living on the border, and things were different right off. It was chaos. It was organized, but it was chaos.”
Armed guards were stationed nearby with machine guns, and every movement was checked. Rainville said he and his wife couldn’t go into Alburgh village without being questioned. The heightened measures, taken in fear of more terrorists crossing into the United States, lasted about a month.
“It was a big reality check,” Rainville said.
Open to Ideas
Though border security was tight post-9/11, it wasn’t for lack of trust between the two countries before the event, according to Rainville.
“There was talk of just opening up Quebec and the United States [for commerce],” he said. “That’s how much of allies we were. Of course, after 9/11, that stopped.”
The two countries continue to have a good working relationship, however, which is demonstrated by the border crossing building close to Rainville’s farm. The building, which was constructed 29 years ago, houses both U.S. and Canada border patrol together, and it was one of the two first comingled buildings along the entire border. The other was built in Washington.
“It’s just to show we have a good working relationship,” Rainville said.
According to Rainville, he and his wife could get dual citizenship if they ever wanted to due to their Canadian families, but they’ve never felt the need to while living on Line Road.
“To us, it’s second nature,” he said.