LOCAL NEWS

Park providing reunions for couple separated by border closure shuts down

Jun 18, 2020, 2:52 PM | Updated: 5:42 pm
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American Lois England and Canadian Ian Hendon, back when they were allowed to meet next to the Peace Arch. (Photo courtesy of Lois England)
(Photo courtesy of Lois England)

British Columbia has just closed its portion of Peace Arch Park, taking away the loophole used by cross-border couples to spend time together during the COVID-19 border closure.

Considered a kind of no-man’s-land, the park includes land in both Washington and B.C., and walking through it does not require passing through border security. For the past several weeks, people unable to get across the border to see each other have met up in the park for walks, picnics, and even a few weddings.

But because of its popularity, the B.C. government was worried about the spread of the virus among crowds in the park, and made the decision to shut its portion of the green space Thursday. Though Americans can still enter the Washington side of the park, Canadians will not be able to come into the park until further notice.

A cross-border romance

When the coronavirus prompted the U.S./Canada border closure on March 18, Bellingham resident Lois England was not just stopped from traveling to the Great White North; she was unable to see her boyfriend.

England and Ian Hendon, a resident of Surrey, British Columbia, have been dating since 2017. The two met online — their dating app matched people by distance, regardless of international borders in between — and they hit it off right away.

“We come up with the same ideas and have the same sense of humor,” England said. “So we’re always laughing.”

Living in towns near the border has meant that England and Hendon have been able to regularly see one another every week for the past three years.

King County sends in application for Phase 2 of reopening

But the pandemic has caused the longest gap in their relationship. The original 30-day border closure was extended again in April, in May, and, as just announced on Tuesday, into June and July as well. Now the border will not open for recreational travel until at least July 21.

“At first we just thought, ‘Well, it’s only going to be a month or a little bit longer,'” England said. “But every day that went by, it started getting harder, … we both started getting a little depressed.”

People can still get across the border if they have immediate family in Canada, but as England and Hendon are not married, they were not eligible for this exception.

Then they discovered the special case of Peace Arch Park.

“We can bring food, and you walk around the whole thing, you have access around the whole place,” England said when the park was still open. “Families are bringing canopies, and they bring all their chairs and sit out there.”

Every Sunday for the past few weeks, England and Hendon have met up in the park for a stroll and a picnic among the colorful flowers. And they were far from the only ones — in a scene that could be straight out of a wartime romance, many international couples have reunited in the park each weekend for an escape from the pandemic’s forced separation.

“We have been given kind of a reprieve for the park,” England said. “That was just a godsend to be able to visit that way. That kind of keeps us going.”

England said the park has very heavy security to prevent people from trying to use the green space to illegally cross the border. Additionally, anyone parking on the Washington side needs a Discover Pass, as the American portion is a Washington State Park.

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Park providing reunions for couple separated by border closure shuts down