The pandemic taught Alaskans how much we miss Canada

Traveling to the Lower 48 is a small consolation when we can’t get into Canada. That’s been a lesson of COVID-19.

Since restrictions between our nations were imposed 14 months ago, we’ve missed Canada, probably more than it has missed us.

At least here on the border, the bond between Alaskans and Yukoners is deep and enduring. Canada is family.

That’s made plain by the fact that the national boundary literally separates members of our Indigenous families, proof that the line between us is recent and political, not organic or historic.

The connection lives in a generation of Haines young people born in Canada after the end of obstetrics services at the Haines clinic in the late 1980s. For several years, Canada’s medical system opened its doors to our expectant moms. Some of our Canadian-born young people now live and work in the country next door, driving down the road to the U.S. for family visits.

Although the obstetrics arrangement was discontinued, we still go to Canada for appointments with dentists, optometrists and orthodontists. Haines residents build cabins in the Yukon and Yukoners build ones here.

In terms of lifestyle and outlook, Alaskans and Yukoners arguably have more in common with each other than either have with their respective countrymen down south.

We ski on their trails and they fish in our waters. They come down here for our beer festival, state fair, bridge tournaments and softball games. We go up there for their music festivals, sled dog races, hot springs and restaurants.

Haines’s Chilkat-Kluane International Bike Relay starts in Canada and ends in the United States. Skagway’s Klondike Trail of ’98 Road Relay starts in the U.S. and ends in Canada. More than 1,000 Americans and Canadians compete against each other in each.

Teams of Canadian chefs entered and won an annual salmon-cooking competition in Haines. Yukoners perennially win the Buckwheat Ski Classic. The race is organized in Skagway, held just over the border in Canada, and followed by a banquet awards ceremony in Skagway. In Haines, the 50-year-old Alcan 200 international snowmachine race operates under the same arrangement.

About five years ago, Haines citizens traded with the Yukon town of Haines Junction: 100 sockeye for a used Zamboni. In 2017, a Skagway woman donated more than $10,000 to bring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police “musical ride” to town on Canada’s 150th birthday.

Cars here sport “Canada Kicks Ass” bumper-stickers and local businesses fly the Maple Leaf flag. Canadian coins literally fill our pockets and our cash registers.

The economic connection started with Indigenous trading trails between inland and coastal Tlingit tribes. Today, Canadian mines ship their ore through Skagway. Alaska’s Haines and Skagway collaborate with the Yukon’s Whitehorse and Haines Junction to promote the international “Golden Circle” travel route.

In recent years, tourism officials from the two countries have successfully marketed the route to European visitors, who fly to Whitehorse and drive to Haines or Skagway to fish or camp, or jump on a boat excursion to Juneau.

As the world gets smaller, Alaska and the Yukon draw closer yet. Talk of more ties surfaces when discussion turns to Yukon’s desire for its own deep-water port, which either Haines or Skagway could provide.

Our nation’s crackpot fringe may one day succeed in building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. One between the Alaska and the Yukon ain’t happening, ever.

Tom Morphet is a Haines-based writer and reporter and former publisher of the Chilkat Valley News. He writes at tommorphet.com.

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