A Skagway newspaper owner was turned back at the Canadian border. Agents deemed her return home “non-essential”

Copies of the Skagway News.

When Canadian border agents deemed one Skagway News publisher’s trip back to Skagway non-essential, it left her operating a local paper… remotely.

Gretchen Wehmhoff and Melinda Munson bought the Skagway News in March, not long before Canada’s border closed to non-essential travel. Munson relocated to Skagway with her family, but Wehmhoff planned to split her time between the Upper Lynn Canal and her home in Chugiak. She’d finish the school year teaching up north, then come back to Skagway for the summer, when things got busy.

She got in her car and headed for the Beaver Creek border on July 21st.

“I drove 423 miles all loaded up in the car with the dog and camped in the car with a honey bucket to get there,” Wehmhoff laughed.

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She said she packed all her needs, including food, so she wouldn’t have to stop in Canada. She had plastic gloves for when she would need to refuel. But when she got to the crossing, border guards pulled her aside for questions after she told them she was returning to her business in Skagway.

“And he said, I’m really sorry, but I’m having to deem that this trip is not essential and that there are other ways you could get to Skagway besides driving through our country. And I’m going to have to turn you around,” recounted Wehmhoff.

She said he went into the station to get her paperwork and passport and came back out with an official refusal paper. He said if she tried to cross again without significant changes to her reasoning, it wouldn’t be good.

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That’s kept Wehmhoff up north and left Munson on her own in Skagway, communicating with her business partner via phone and Zoom. Munson has been juggling the paper and caring for her six children.

“It was never my intention to be by myself during the summer, so when Gretchen got turned around…that was hard to accept,” Munson said.

“And it’s also not really healthy for the community to have, you know, one of its main people not able to come in and get to know the community and serve the community.”

But they’ve been pulling it off. When they spoke with KHNS via Zoom, both women were still smiling. Wehmhoff says she’s not mad about what happened.

“If I have any anger, I have frustration with people that don’t follow the rules. And I do have some anger for the injustice that we aren’t able to work together as a country to really slam this this virus down. And it’s very possible to do it. It’s not that we couldn’t do it; it just didn’t happen. There’s where my anger would be, but I’m not angry at Canada,” she said.

Wehmhoff has asthma, which puts her at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, so she said airline travel is out of the question. But she didn’t bring a doctor’s note about her condition to the border. She said she’ll bring one next time—when she tries again in September.

Border restrictions have only gotten stricter since her first attempt—and they’ve been extended four times since March—but they are scheduled to expire on August 21st, before her trip.