The Current

Date night at a border ditch? How this pandemic-divided couple goes on dates at a U.S.-Canada crossing

We talk to Savannah Koop and Ryan Hamilton, a young couple living on opposite sides of the B.C.-Washington border. They were due to get married next week, but instead the pandemic has left them with their big day postponed, and sitting on opposite sides of the border for “dates” — six feet apart.

Savannah Koop and Ryan Hamilton were to marry next week; then pandemic struck

Ryan Hamilton and Savannah Koop were separated when the U.S.-Canada border closed. They've turned the border into a date venue. (Submitted by Savannah Koop)

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Instead of walking down the aisle next week, Savannah Koop and Ryan Hamilton will meet on either side of the U.S.-Canada border — six feet and an international boundary apart.

"We meet on these two roads that run parallel to each other between the Sumas border crossing and the Aldergrove border crossing," said Hamilton, who lives in Bellingham, Wash. 

He and Koop, who lives in Abbotsford, B.C., have been separated since the COVID-19 pandemic closed the border in mid-March. The couple have had to postpone their May 8 wedding, and their closest physical contact is to go for walks and talk along the border itself.

"There are quite a few places in the border where we can get close, as close as six feet," Hamilton told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"But a lot of times there is a real ditch that is quite a bit further than that. We can usually see each other fine, and we can hear each other," he said.

As Koop and Hamilton walk together on opposite sides of the border, there are spots that allow them to be six feet apart, and spots where the distance is much greater. (Submitted by Savannah Koop)

"It's funny because people always say, 'oh, you haven't seen her' and I guess, yes, I have seen her, but it is different than normal."

Koop said it's been hard not to be physically close and comfort each other at this difficult time, but they're making the best of it.

"This is a tough season for everyone and it's tough to not be together," Koop told Galloway.

"We just had to get creative and try and have fun with it."

Apps match people in neighbouring countries

The couple met on dating app Hinge last July — it's common for people living in border cities to match with someone in their neighbouring country — but it wasn't exactly love at first swipe.

"I didn't think she had a super great profile," said Hamilton. "She seemed like an interesting person, but she didn't have quite as great… photos as I expected."

The couple were due to get married next week. (Submitted by Ryan Hamiliton)

But Koop was equally unsure.

They went for a first date of coffee and watching the sunset over the San Juan Islands.

"The date he planned was like the best date I've ever been on, and we, like, effortlessly talked for hours," she told Galloway. "But I really was like, he's not very funny, and he's kind of odd."

However within about a month the couple had warmed to each other and were officially dating.

"I never thought that I would meet the love of my life on a dating app, but here we are," Hamilton said.

Short engagement can't outpace pandemic

The couple got engaged on March 1, and decided on a short engagement.

Koop's parents live in Europe, but were already planning a trip to Canada in May, when Koop's sister was due to give birth to their first grandchild.

Two weeks after we got engaged, we were separated- Savannah Koop

"We figured, hey, why don't we just get married while they're here? So they only have to come across the world once this year," she explained.

Friends rallied around to put their wedding together in just a few weeks. 

"We had a friend offer their property to us, another friend was going to do the photos ... everything was just kind of falling into place," Koop said. 

But then when Koop returned from a visit to Washington — "we had literally just been doing our wedding registry at Target," she said — the advice came down for Canadians to quarantine for 14 days if they had visited another country.

Within days came the full suspension of non-essential travel between the two countries. 

"So two weeks after we got engaged, we were separated," Koop said.

Koop and Hamilton will often bring blankets and snacks so they can sit and talk for a while. (Submitted by Savannah Koop)

'Grateful' for challenge of pandemic

The initial closure was due to end April 21, and the couple hoped they could still host their 150 guests on May 8, many of whom were coming from all over the world.

When the U.S. and Canadian governments agreed to extend the border restrictions for another 30 days, they decided to postpone.

"It's tough to go through something like this, cancel all the plans that we had and grieve the losses of that, and not be able to hug or be physically near to each other," Koop told Galloway. 

"[But] I was saying to Ryan last night, as hard as this is, and I don't love it, I'm also grateful for it," she said. 

"It's pushed our relationship in ways that we wouldn't have been pushed, if this wouldn't have happened."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Anne Penman.

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