Out in the Open

On Canusa Street, you need a passport to visit your neighbours

Residents of a community that straddles the Canada-U.S. border describe how security concerns have separated their small towns.

A residential road runs right along the border between Quebec and Vermont

A black border line runs along the floor of the Haskell Free Library, which straddles the boundary between Canada and the United States. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

When he was a kid, Pat Boisvert's best friend lived right across the street.

"We were back and forth across there 50 times a day," he said. "But of course, things have gotten quite a bit more formal, I guess is one way to put it." 

Seventy years later, crossing the street isn't so easy. Boisvert lives in that same house. But the border agents at the end of the block seem to keep a closer watch on the neighbourhood's movements. 

Pat Boisvert, pictured on his street in 2007, lives in Beebe Plain, Vermont. His neighbours across the road live in Quebec. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)
The Canada-U.S. border runs down the middle of Boisvert's street. The yellow line between two lanes of traffic separates Stanstead, Quebec, from Beebe Plain, Vermont.

"The sidewalk on the street here, which I do use to walk up the street, is on the Canadian side," Boisvert said. "So I cross and use the sidewalk and then cross back again. I'm sure they're keeping an eye out to see that I don't stay on the Canadian side or something. But I don't even bother to check with them."

Canusa Street, so named in honour of the two countries it divides, is one of a few cross-border oddities in the area.

At the end of Canusa, a house sits right on the border, with doors to both countries. It was up for sale last year by two long-time residents, who had dual citizenship.

And the nearby Haskell Free Library also straddles the border. A black line dividing north from south runs along the floor inside. Both Canadians and Americans can enter, and patrol officers ensure that everyone gets back to where they came from.

But the free mingling inside the building has the potential to be abused. Last year, a Canadian man was extradited to the United States to be tried over alleged gun smuggling through the library's bathroom.

Boisvert, who lives on the American side, remembers a time when crossing over just required a wave to the border agent. He says he even had Canadian kids in his school when he grew up. But especially since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, border security has tightened up.

"It should be almost just like one, big happy family, as far as I can see," he said of the two towns. "That's pretty much the way it always was."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Neighbours"