A trip through Canada’s newly-reopened border: ‘So empty for so long’

A white and blue building in the middle of the road that says Canada on the side.
The new border station at Fraser, B.C. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

The South Klondike Highway from Skagway to Whitehorse is one of the prettiest stretches of road in North America, but it was off-limits to most Americans fore more than a year due to pandemic-related border restrictions.

Those restrictions, however, eased starting Aug. 9. Now, fully vaccinated U.S. travelers are allowed to cross into Canada.

KHNS-Haines reporter Mike Swasey recently did just that. Here’s how it went:

Once the weekend arrived, I packed up my camper truck, grabbed my passport and COVID-19 vaccine card, loaded up my adventure dog Charley and hit the road.

When I arrived at the border station in Fraser, B.C., the Canadian border guard asked me questions about my job, where I live and what kind of bear protectant I had. I had everything in order, so he let me through after about 10 minutes

Downtown Carcross was our first stop, and I didn’t get out of the parking lot by the visitor center before I ran into Michelle Phillips, a dog musher from Tagish.

“This place has been so quiet and so empty for so long,” she said. “It’s really nice to drive into Carcross today and see all the cars and the campers and different license plates and see people walking around.”

RELATED: Here’s what you’ll need if you’re crossing the border into Canada next month

Apparently, Yukoners are just as excited to get to Skagway as I was to get to Canada.

“I would love to go see friends in Skagway and go to Starfire,” said Phillips. “I miss Skagway. So yeah, I really hope they open the border.”

And there’s something to that cross-border food craving. Phillips was craving Thai food from Starfire in Skagway, and I was excited for sushi in Whitehorse.

A man in a face mask helps two people at a store filled with dollars, clothes and other gifts.
Ron O’Conner inside Matthew Watson General Store in Carcross, YT. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

I stopped into Matthew Watson General Store and talked with co-owner Ron O’Conner who was working his first shift since the fall of 2019.

He said his wife and daughters had been running the store, but the girls took the weekend off, so he had to cover.

“This is our Discovery Day weekend. Monday is the holiday but there’s a lot of people from British Columbia and Alberta up here visiting right now,” he said. “And then the Whitehorse crowd comes out here on the weekends.”

Charley the adventure dog at Miles Canyon in Whitehorse, YT. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

I said my goodbyes and headed up to Whitehorse, where I ran into Tom Ely from Haines who was driving the Golden Circle. The loop goes from Haines to Skagway via ferry, a drive to Whitehorse, then down to Haines.

“Well, I’ve been waiting since the border closed to get back to the Yukon and see my friends and do some mountain biking,” said Ely.

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He said flashing his passport, negative COVID-19 test result and vaccination card was pretty straightforward.

“So it’s pretty much about five minutes to cross,” he said. “It was great.”

I asked him what he was most excited to bring home.

“My thing is the hot banana pepper rings and Bix, dill pickles the extra garlic ones, minis,” said Ely.

Charley dog and I camped on a friend’s property, and on Sunday we went to visit the SS Klondike — the old sternwheel steamboat that used to run freight along the Yukon River.

That’s where I met Terri Bishop from Vero Beach, Fla. She stopped with Boone, her Rhodesian Ridgeback, on her way to Interior Alaska. She said she had to Google where to get a COVID-19 test in Montana before she could cross into Canada.

“If you did it on Friday, and then they don’t give you the results until Monday, like that’s 72 hours right there,” she said. “So it was like, okay, how’s this gonna work? But it worked.”

A large white boat behind fireweed.
The S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse, YT. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

To get through the border, you’ll need your passport, your vaccination card, proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours and a completed ArriveCan application.

RELATED: Canada to require air travelers to be vaccinated

When coming in, the app asks you to say where you’ll quarantine if necessary. Because Bishop is traveling in a tricked-out Sprinter van, she used the border station address. She said the Canadian border guard had a laugh at that.

“And the only thing he asked me was, ‘Do you have any weapons?’” she said.

There have been some changes in the Yukon since I last visited: a new Canadian border building, the Westmark Hotel is now the Sternwheeler Hotel and some of my favorite restaurants have changed. But some things always stay the same. Tim Horton’s had Timbits, and Canadian Tire had long lines and good dog toys.

Many of the people I met wondered when the U.S. border will open to Canadians, but there’s still no official word on when that might happen.

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