New Brunswick

Her parents live 80 metres away but she can't visit. Why? The Quebec border

The New Brunswick government has closed its borders to non-essential visitors to limit the spread of COVID-19, but that's proved disruptive for a small northwestern community that straddles the border with Quebec.

Tiny Madawaska County community along Quebec border feeling strain of border restrictions

Nadine Bolduc, right, and her father, Germain, speak to each other at the New Brunswick-Quebec border in Madawaska County. Even though they live 80 metres apart, they haven't been able to visit each other's homes because of border restrictions. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Nadine Bolduc couldn't live much closer to her parents, but these days she feels very far away from them.

Bolduc lives in the tiny community of Boundary, N.B., in Madawaska County. Her parents' house is about 80 metres away, across a small bridge spanning a narrow creek.

That creek is also the New Brunswick-Quebec border, and that means Bolduc is not allowed to visit her parents unless she's prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after the two-minute walk back home.

"Since they're from New Brunswick, they can't see anyone they know, and they're alone," she said.

"We do all of our business in New Brunswick, and right now we can't make it," said Bolduc's father, Germain.

"We have to stay there and that's why it's a little bit harder. We can't go to New Brunswick. Everything is there and we can't go there."

The New Brunswick government has closed its borders to non-essential visitors to limit the spread of COVID-19 and has set up screening checkpoints staffed by provincial enforcement officers.

In a tiny community called Boundary, one family learns to cope with COVID-19 border restrictions 3:10

It's been disruptive in many ways, but it's particularly acute here, at the province's most remote border crossing with Quebec — a spot that, in normal times, may be the most integrated location along the boundary.

The small cluster of houses and businesses, along with a few cottages on nearby Baker Lake, constitute a single community that happens to be in two provinces. 

"They're really divided our community here in half," said Nadine Bolduc.

Pre-pandemic, Bolduc walked over to Chez Rita, a diner on the Quebec side next door to her parents' house, a couple of times a week. But it's closed now, because the owners live on the New Brunswick side and can't get there to open it.

There are no more trips up the road to the dépanneur, or convenience store, for cheap beer.

A 'weird' situation

It's a sudden hardening of a border, finalized by Great Britain in 1851, that had been an afterthought until COVID-19.

"Almost everybody that I know that lives on the Quebec side of Baker Lake is originally from New Brunswick," said Léo-Paul Charest, a former senior civil servant in the provincial civil service originally from Edmundston.

When Charest retired from his government job, he decided to build his retirement home on the lake and found a nice spot.

"And then when finally we started looking at it seriously, hey, it was in Quebec."

The border closure here covers two crossings a stone's throw from each other. 

The tiny community of Boundary in northwestern New Brunswick has been disrupted by the provincial government's border restrictions. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

On the main road, where New Brunswick Route 120 meets Quebec Highway 289 at a small bridge over the creek, New Brunswick officers are pulling over vehicles for screening at a checkpoint.

"It's kind of hectic," Bolduc said. "We have 24-hour surveillance from the New Brunswick side, and we have all the noises and the lights. It's kind of weird."

She lives on Boundary Road, which forks off Route 120 and crosses the same creek about 200 metres from the main road. That bridge is closed completely by a large barrier. 

A border checkpoint on Route 120. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Bolduc has been running errands for her parents, who can't reach their usual grocery store, pharmacy and bank in communities like Clair and Edmundston on the New Brunswick side. 

She brings whatever they need to the barrier and leaves it there for them to pick up.

That's also where her father Germain spoke to CBC News. He stayed on the Quebec side of the border while she remained on the New Brunswick side.

Make an exception, resident urges

While Germain Bolduc said the situation is "not that bad," he said homes on his side of the line, which are remote and isolated from larger population centres in Quebec, should be treated as part of New Brunswick.

"If they could give us a pass so we can go there and come back — it would be just around here," he said. "We come from Quebec, but not the city, and not the city of Montreal."

Nadine Bolduc, right, and her father, Germain, have a conversation along the New Brunswick-Quebec border, which has been closed to non-essential travel. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Charest agreed. 

"I don't think people really understand our situation," he said. "People that don't live near a boundary, they don't know."

He said when people think of the province of Quebec, they think of the province's high number of COVID-19 cases, "but you know, that's Montreal."

"Here, it's almost New Brunswick anyway. ...  The risk factor is less than having somebody from Fredericton go to Edmundston."

Charest owns a rental property in Edmundston he's been unable to reach for maintenance. His wife can't visit her 92-year-older mother. He can't bring his car to a garage, just a few metres inside New Brunswick near Bolduc's house, to get his winter tires removed.

"What we're looking for is consideration. Just maybe, take our address. We live on the border. I'm 20 metres from the border. There should be something done for these people here."

Seeking political help

Charest has contacted the MLA representing the New Brunswick side, Liberal Francine Landry, and Jean-Pierre Ouellet, mayor of the rural municipality of Haut-Madawaska.

But there's little they can do.

"I agree that the border should be controlled, and I guess most of the population agrees with that," Ouellet said. "But when you apply the law, there's a matter of judgement and common sense.

"That's what I'm asking, for the people who are applying the rules and regulations to use some kind of common sense in their decisions to allow people to come in or go out." 

Premier Blaine Higgs has attributed New Brunswick's relative success controlling COVID-19, and the resulting reopening of parts of the economy, to strict border measures.

"We're able to allow the freedom inside the province because of the position we're in right now," he said last week. "Borders are our main line of defence here, and I know that for communities that live right on the border, it's a special challenge."

'It's protection for us'

Despite the inconveniences, Nadine Bolduc said she isn't actually opposed to the border restrictions. 

"We felt from the beginning like we were trapped [and] there were eyes on us 24 hours a day, and that's a downfall," she said. "But I'm not against it. I mean it's protection for us."

Nadine Bolduc says the situation has been 'weird' and 'hectic' but, ultimately, for their protection. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Until recently, Quebec also had checkpoints here for traffic entering the province, but they were removed a couple of weeks ago.

Now, "my parents are kind of nervous, anxious about it, because they feel like they're not protected," Bolduc said.

"So they're happy and I'm happy that on the New Brunswick side, [enforcement officers] are still here and will be here for the summer. So I'm really grateful for them to be here. We feel protected."

From the other side of the barrier, her father Germain agreed.

"I think it's a good thing," he said, "but it's sometimes hard for us."

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