British Columbia

Smuggler's Inn: The border town bed and breakfast whose visitors don't always stay the night

Guests at the border town bed and breakfast have been arrested by Mounties in Canada, according to the owner.

Border patrol guards are now a common sight at the Blaine, Washington establishment

Tour the Smuggler's Inn, Blaine, Washington

6 years ago
Duration 2:13
Brenna Rose talks with B & B owner Bob Boulé about life on the edge of the Canadian-American border.

Irregular border crossings are not a new concept for Bob Boulé, owner of a Blaine, Washington bed and breakfast located steps from the Canada — U.S. border. This year, though, he's noticed a difference in the direction of travel. 

"With Trump as president, we're not seeing the Canadians wanting to go illegally into the United States," said Boulé, owner of the aptly named Smuggler's Inn.

Some of his guests have made their way across his property, which the border runs through, and into Canada by morning.

"There are times that we've seen people arrested in Canada that were guests here," he said. 

As at the end of March this year, 201 asylum seekers were intercepted in British Columbia by RCMP officers. 

In the month of March alone, across the country, 887 people were arrested entering Canada from outside an official port of entry — that's up from the previous two months, bringing the total to 1860 so far for 2017. 

For some, their last sleep was likely at Smuggler's Inn.

The owner of the Inn has lived on the border for nearly two decades. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

Who are the guests? 

Smuggler's Inn has had visitors from more than 70 different countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and several African nations, said Boulé. Many of them have left behind gifts, including antique African masks and traditional costumes that now adorn the walls. 

"Most of them don't speak English. Some of them are well educated, some of them are doctors," he said, believing they're in search of a 'better life'. 

"The first thing they say is if it was a perfect world they wouldn't leave," admits Boulé. 

A map of the world inside Bob Boulé's office shows where many of the Inn's guests come from. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

Border Security 

There may not be a fence or a physical barrier surrounding Smuggler's Inn, but there are cameras keeping close watch. 

"You're living in a bubble," said Boulé of the surveillance, which he has gotten used to during his 17 years living here. 

But he says he's noticed more border patrol officers in the past few months — and he isn't the only one. 

His neighbour, Mike Lucas, has lived along the same stretch in Blaine, right next to Avenue Zero, for a decade. 

The border is monitored by camera towers, and vehicles from both the American and Canadian side. (Cliff Shim/CBC)

"Many a night we'll be sitting in the living room [with] the lights from the RCMP cars ... parked out here on Zero Avenue. It's kind of a Christmas light show," said Lucas.

He said authorities have asked him to keep an eye out for cabs dropping people off at the empty lot beside his home. 

"The border patrol says that any time you see a red cab company come up here, call us because chances are the families have got the cabs to bring them up here and then they'll cross immediately."

In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection says it works closely with both the RCMP and CBSA to ensure all crossings are "conducted lawfully and orderly through official ports of entry on both sides," and not doing so can "lead to incarceration, monetary penalties, deportation with a ban on re-entry."

Boulé has taken his own measures to verify the status of his guests — each one has to prove their legal right to be in the United States before being allowed to stay.

However, he understands why some attempt to enter Canada. 

"When in the United States they're not getting the same warmth, and there's other countries that aren't welcoming," said Boulé.

"Trying to figure out how to go to Canada to be welcomed is really important."

A bunk room at Smuggler's Inn. "We've have people not here in the morning. There are times that we've seen people arrested in Canada that were guests here," said Bob Boulé, owner. (Cliff Shim/CBC)


Brenna Rose


Brenna Rose is a reporter and anchor who reported across western Canada before making her way to CBC Vancouver in 2015.