British Columbia

Alaskan girls 'bouncing' with excitement on return to B.C. school after border restrictions loosened

Nick Korpela, father of Hilma and Ellie Korpela, was able to take his children to school a week after their failed attempt to cross the border, although travel restrictions for cross-border students were loosened up on Oct. 30.

Hilma and Ellie Korpela returned to Bear Valley School in Stewart, B.C., on Monday

Hilma Korpela, 10, who lives in Hyder, Alaska, returned to school in Stewart, B.C., for the first time this academic year on Monday, after travel restrictions along the Canada-U.S. border were loosened for cross-border students. (Nick Korpela)

After months of boredom and frustration, two Alaskan girls are excited they can go back to classes just across the border in B.C. — a school run that had until recently been impossible due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

On Oct. 30, Ottawa began to allow cross-border students to attend school on the other side of the Canada-U.S. border, as long as they're taken there and back by the same driver.

Monday was the first day in this academic year Nick Korpela drove his daughters Hilma and Ellie from their home in Hyder, Alaska, to Bear Valley School in Stewart, B.C., where Americans' attendance has been approved by School District 82.

"The kids seemed to be really bouncing around quite a bit. I didn't know how the teacher is going to be able to get them to sit in their chair," Korpela told Dominika Lirette, guest host of CBC's Radio West.

Hilma, 10, and eight-year-old Ellie were two of five children in their U.S. hometown, population 63, stuck at home despite their Canadian school being only three kilometres away. Hyder, situated in the Alaskan panhandle, is not connected by road to the rest of the state. 

Both girls said they were happy and excited to see their classmates and teachers again. 

"It was nice to play with more friends," Ellie said.

The two girls would have been able to return to school earlier but had been denied access by Canadian border officers.

Ellie Korpela, 8, says she's excited to be able to play with her classmates again. (Nick Korpela)

Korpela says he tried to take the children to school on Nov. 16 but the Canada Border Services Agency officer in charge, despite knowing their purpose for crossing the border, wouldn't allow it.

But Korpela said on Sunday he received a voice message from CBSA telling him he was now permitted to take the two girls to the Stewart school.

When CBSA was asked why Korpela and his daughters were initially denied entry, it deferred to the Public Health Agency of Canada. PHAC has been contacted for comment. 

Tap the link below to listen to the Korpelas' interview on Radio West:

With files from Radio West, Yvette Brend and Meera Bains