The U.S. border has reopened to non-essential travel for Canadians for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In Haines, a Monday morning welcome party was thrown for the first Canadians to visit since March 2020.
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The Haines community marching band was at the ready to play “O Canada” when the first car — a black Dodge — pulled into the downtown visitors center.
It was the only car to arrive before noon. Bruce Funk of Whitehorse had a police escort. Haines Police Chief Heath Scott led Funk from the border crossing, about 40 miles north of Haines.
When he arrived, Funk had tears in his eyes as he shook hands with Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud.
“Welcome back to Haines,” Olerud said. “We’ve missed everybody in the Yukon, and being able to have you guys back here means a lot.”
Funk is a familiar face. He’s been visiting Haines for more than 45 years.
“It’s been a long time,” he said with a laugh. “Ah, just happy to be back.”
Funk said he plans to check on property he owns, do some sport fishing and visit with friends in town. His last visit was in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit and right before both countries instituted travel restrictions as a precaution against spreading COVID-19.
“Nothing better than to spend a few weeks down here,” Funk said.
Haines Tourism Director Steven Auch had gift bags for the first seven Canadian visitors. The bags each had a gift certificate for breakfast at the Bamboo Room, coffee, salmon and other items from local businesses.
“It would’ve been nice if there was a line of cars at the border at the opening and they all came. But, you know, this is great,” Auch said. “Great to see someone that’s been coming here for awhile come back on the day of the opening, so we’re excited for that.”
Auch said Haines is ready to welcome back Canadians after a 19-month break.
“We’ve waited patiently,” he said. “We’re glad to welcome our friends and family from Canada back to Haines.”
Mayor Olerud echoed the excitement, saying it feels like a step toward normalcy.
“There’s been so many baby steps since the pandemic first hit. And then each one you get a little bit closer to normal, a little closer to normal. I think having that, where now we can go there, they can come here. Yes, it’s a little bit harder than it normally is, but we’re one step closer to that normal,” he said. “Having our Canadian neighbors be able to come back to Haines is a big step.”
Canadian visitors are required to show proof of vaccination and have a negative COVID-19 test for re-entry.
The reception in Haines on Monday wrapped up with coffee and snacks. Funk even got an invitation for dinner while he’s in town.