Buff and Rebuff

Buff and Rebuff

Not counting two layovers in the Toronto airport, I’ve only been on Canadian soil once. In 1990, a friend and I made a day trip to Victoria, British Columbia. We took a rolling ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca to Canada. It was a large ferry that conveyed automobiles as well as pedestrians, but the ferry landed in downtown Victoria, so we chose to leave our car at the ferry terminal on the U.S. side. We hadn’t long departed before my buddy missed his camera. Thinking back, he distinctly remembered laying it on top of the car while he gathered himself for boarding. Disconsolate, he wrote it off. After a day of exploring the beautiful little city, we returned to Port Angeles well after dark. Earlier in the day, we had breezed into Canada. There must’ve been some bureaucratic curtsy, but I don’t remember it. Arriving back in the U.S. was different. There was a long line of ferry passengers waiting to be cleared by customs workers, who asked pointed questions and inspected whatever documentation could be produced. This was long before Sept. 11, 2001, and Homeland Security. I expect today the routine we endured would seem tame, but we were tired, and we thought it a callous imposition. When we finally made it back to the car, sure enough: the camera was not where my friend had left it. Instead, we found it underneath the sheet metal hiding the windshield wipers, where some thoughtful soul had tucked it. OK, so it’s not a great story. It would be better if I had pictures to show you.

26 responses to “Buff and Rebuff”

  1. I’ve been over to Victoria on that same ferry A couple of years ago and I think you’re right about customs on the Canadian side, but coming back wasn’t too bad. The customs officer was even funny when he came to us.
    Another time coming back over the border Into Montana, the guy checked the passports, asked us whether we favored the Grizzlies (UM) or the Wildcats (MSU) and waved us through.

    • My wife and I recently took that ferry ride – it’s a nice ride, and Victoria was a great destination for us.

      Our experience at customs both on the Canadian side and the US side was a non-event. I found it similar to taking Amtrak up to Pacific Central station in Vancouver (and returning with the stop at White Rock for US Customs) – very easy and not a big deal.

  2. Again before 9/11, I was returning to the U.S. from Toronto by car. At the Niagara border checkpoint, I handed my newly acquired U.S. passport to the U.S. immigration agent. She, with some disgust in her voice, curtly said to me, “Don’t give me that unless I ask for it.” Apparently my New Hampshire license plate was sufficient proof of citizenship in those days.

  3. I can’t even count how many times that I’ve been to Canada as the city of Detroit has the distinction of actually being north of Windsor Ontario. My first trip was in 1973 with a HS Choir tour. Just before we entered the tunnel, our director told us to keep quiet while the authorities and stressed “NO SMART ALEC COMMENTS!” For some reason everyone on the bus looked at me. I have been to numerous automobile assembly plants and have driven through through Ontario to Niagara Falls once.

    My favorite trips to Windsor were part of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. I completed 12 of that race which included 10 in Canada. In 1994 they were working on the tunnel so it was a US race only. The 2001 race was in the US only because of 911. My favorite part of the International races was when I entered the tunnel and would yell “I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE!” (so much for the smart comments). The tunnel was often warmer than the air outside and clean as ventilation was excellent. I usually would turn to another competitor and say “All of that water above us is kind of eerie.” It would get even more strange as there was usually water inside of the tunnel. I am not sure where or why that came from.

    I was also the elite runner coordinator for the marathon and got to know the folks at Homeland Security quite well. Some of their stories were fascinating and hilarious. Sometimes both! One thing to understand is that before 911, customs was primarily about collecting money and regulating commerce. They are still involved with that, but now they are looking more for security threats.

  4. You must have just caught a jerk, Jimmy. My youngest lives in Alaska, about 20 miles from the border, and when we visit, we frequently go over (much better grocery stores in Whitehorse), most recently 2 months ago; never had to do more either direction than show the passport and answer a few cursory questions (“Any produce?”, etc.)

  5. A Saturday statement from Jim Ryan, President of the University of Virginia:
    “Sometimes you make mistakes. Although motivated by good intentions, I believe we made a mistake this year in excluding the 21-gun salute from our Veterans Day ceremony. Having attended the ceremony, and having consulted with the Commander in charge, I am confident that we can accommodate a 21-gun salute, which had been a meaningful feature of the ceremony in years past. We will therefore reinstate the 21-gun salute next year, and we will make sure to minimize any disruptions to classes and communicate the details of the ceremony in advance. Thanks to all who shared their views about this topic, and my sincere apologies to any who may have doubted our commitment to honoring our veterans, whom we hold in the highest esteem and who deserve our gratitude.”
    Refreshing, in a day and time when the prevailing response to being called out for a mistake seems to be to “double down”. In this veteran’s opinion, President Ryan is to be commended for his statement and for reinstating the salute portion of the ceremony.

  6. If you want to watch NOLA-type pelicans, go to:


    Expect a peregrine pair will chase them off in spring. Brown Pelicans, the smaller of our two spp., are coastal birds. White pelicans [several spp.] are primarily freshwater birds. They were rare when we first came here in ’58. They’ve recovered.
    During peregrine nesting season, the Anacapa peregrine ledge is the noisiest site I visit, courtesy of hundreds of gulls [several spp.] over the ocean below. Need to look up the various spp. of white pelicans. Unlike swans, there are no black pelicans. Peace,

  7. Driving a semi through western Canada was always fun for me. The roads were less congested and well maintained. Going into Canada with a load I had only to show my bill of lading at a drive-up window, just like taking a load into California’s agricultural POEs. Coming back with a load was always harder, with a mandatory visit to a customs broker who’d prepare all the paperwork. After 9/11 things got progressively harder, going from just needing to show your CDL and paperwork to also having a birth certificate (!) then finally a passport. Even empty trucks were inspected by officers with dogs and mirrors for looking under the rig. The busier POEs had massive X-ray machines that you’d drive through. I’m sure I was thoroughly irradiated despite any promises they made.

    • Speaking of irradiated and border crossings… a friend from Canada came to visit, and had to cross the border into the USA. She departed directly from her breast cancer radiation treatment. Good thing she mentioned it to the staff, as they gave her a “note from the doctor.” She found out why when she approached the crossing and her presence – while inside her car, mind you, and still a good distance away from the buildings – briefly shut the entire operation down because she had set off the radiation detectors. A quick few questions and the doctor’s note got things moving again. This was definitely *post*-911…

      • That is absolutely true. I had a nuclear stress test before one of my marathons post 911 and I set it off coming out of the tunnel. I kept running as there was no way for them to determine who it was. There was a story about it in the paper and because I had worked for the race director, I called her afterwords. The next year they specially marked the bibs so that if someone had recently had the test, they didn’t have to stop 5 or 6 runners to check to see who had the radioactive material on (or IN) I’m not sure how long is stays in the system, but I had a to stop running that race a few years later so I didn’t get to test it.

  8. Back in the’70s, I travelled by Greyhound between FL an Toronto, ON so as to attend a philatelic convention/show and meet, for the first time, a friend from England (big name collector). The bus cost was only $50 for three months of travel east of the Mississippi, and sitting is a lot easier than sitting + driving, so….
    While in Toronto, I managed to buy 200 somewhat stuffed glassines of stamps from a wholesaler. They were in my suitcase as I returned to the US at Buffalo and were, I realized, an avalanche waiting to happen if/when the case was opened at customs.
    Thus it came to be that, at 2 a.m., in a dingy bus-accommodating customs place, I learned that trying the helpful to the inspector by stating “I wouldn’t open that suitcase if I were you.” isn’t the best thing to do. He gave a frosty stare, opened it, and I got to retrieve a lot of slippery glassines from the surrounding floor.
    Got ’em all, too.

  9. I too have only been on Canadian soil once. After our sophomore year, two college classmates and I drove to Maine and spent a week or so in the summer house of one classmate’s family on Biddeford Pool. (One of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten was in Portland ME. Who knew?) One morning, we decided to drive into Québec and ended up spending two days and a night there. High-lights of the side-trip, as I recall, were…
    -ordering a meal in high-school French and actually getting what I intended to order
    -riding a car ferry across the St. Lawrence
    -meeting three McGill co-eds that were staying at our motel and taking them out to see Québec City
    -having the owners of the restaurant where we dined that night give us a tour of the beautiful, completed-but-not-yet-opened discothèque and bar they had just added to their restaurant (yep, it was that long ago)
    ….but not necessarily in that order.
    I do recall that Canadians tended to be very nice people (some of them *very* nice), with a few exceptions…such as the members of the Front de libération du Québec (during their mail-box-blowing-up phase) that yelled not-nice things at us (in French, mais oui) across the moat from the cell widows of the old and very impressive goal in which they were being held.
    All in all, I enjoyed my visit there. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to France.

  10. Last time Elaine & I were in Paris, juillet ’85, some folk were nice, helpful, others not. Lots of topnotch food, some in simple neighborhood bistros, others fancier, one of which friends tell me has folded since. No longer able to travel much; eat pretty well, all things considered. Also, priorities change w/ age.
    Was reminded this evening that leftover restaurant pasta does not microwave well, but the result went fine with someone’s “Winter Lager”, abv 4.5 or so.

  11. When I went to Canada the first time they still played “God Save The King” in the movie theaters.
    Driving from The U P to NY once in our college days the only question I remember was “Do you have anything to declare”
    going in and coming out.
    That year they were working on the TransCanada and there was a 50 or 60 mile stretch that each concrete joint seemed to be
    4 inches wide – it took the front wheel bearings out of my car. Luckily we got to our destination first.

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